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London Theatre Reviews

Ella Smith and Robert Webb/PH: Stephen Cummiskey

BIG DEAL

By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

Neil LaBute's 2004 off-Broadway hit Fat Pig has finally made it across the pond...and it still packs an emotional wallop. It underscores how easy it is to inflict pain on another person.

American playwright Neil LaBute has said some excoriating things about the human condition in general and the male of the species in particular. His characters are difficult to warm to and easy to resist because. like it or not, they tell us so much that is unflattering about ourselves.

Fat Pig, first seen in New York in 2004, is no exception but instead of outright loathing for the human race, you leave the theatre merely ashamed of a certain strata of our superficial, image-conscious society, and full of compassion for its hapless victims.

And the particular victim on this occasion, the fat pig of the title, is a delightfully intelligent, warm and engaging, but vastly overweight (okay, obese) young librarian called Helen (Ella Smith ), who, during her lunch break in a crowded restaurant, meets Tom (Robert Webb) a handsome and personable yuppie with whom she strikes up a conversation.

It's innocent enough at first, but, against the odds, Tom finds himself attracted to her, invites her on a date, and begins an affair.

What he hasn't reckoned with, however, is the level of ridicule he is about to experience in his office, unstintingly and cruelly meted out by Carter (Kris Mitchell), an arrogant, self-satisfied jerk with whom he works.

There's also vehement disapproval from Jeannie (Joanna Page) the dolly-bird he has dumped for Helen and whose fury and disgust cue in the ugliest scene in the play.

Unfortunately, Tom, it transpires, has the courage of their convictions. At a beach- side office gathering where, self-conscious of Helen's appearance, he segregates the two of them from his colleagues and he tells her their relationship is over.

It's a truly heart-breaking scene, the saddest and most affecting LaBute has ever written, and it ends the play sending audiences home feeling thoroughly ashamed of the pain we are capable of inflicting on one another.

The play leaves you in no doubt that Helen's humiliating rejection will scar her for life. There is no way she will recover from this, and it breaks your heart.

Content-wise, that's about it. It's a small story but with major consequences for the people involved and if there's one miscalculation in LaBute's flawless direction it's inserting an interval during its 1 hour and 45 minute running time. No gripes about his quartet of performers, though.

They bring out the best (or worst?) in each other in dialogue that is abrasive as well as extremely funny. This show really could take the town.