Simon Ward reviews Fat Jewels at The Hope Theatre
Sometimes life and art can get altogether too close for comfort. A play set in a stiflingly hot and claustrophobic room was played in stiflingly hot and claustrophobic room. If the weather forecast is to be believed, this will be the case throughout the run. In which case, come prepared with appropriate clothing and plenty of cold drinks. Like a football team running down the clock, you may find yourself looking toward to the end of the seventy minute running time and the bliss of some cool night air.
But this is to do a disservice to a very good play, acted with intensity and total commitment by Robert Walters as Danny and Hugh Train as Pat. If the audience struggles in the heat, the sweat dripping from both performers by the end of the play is a testimony to the energy they have brought to bear as the evening unfolds.
Set in the sparsely furnished living room of Danny’s flat, the play opens on a post-pub supper of cans of lager and battered sausage and chips. Danny is the older of the two, with a partner and child, who do not live with him, although one of the two chairs in the room is a small child’s. Pat is younger, early twenties, lives with his Mum, and has come out to get away from the confines of home for a while. This is a play where icebergs of repressed emotion are glimpsed from time to time, but never fully grasped. There is a debt to Pinter in the lurking menace and tension built up in the course of apparently banal and occasionally surreal conversation. It becomes apparent that Danny has been a ‘family friend’ of Pat and his Mum for years – Pat even reminisces of having wished Danny were his father. And Pat is charmingly touched and surprised to have achieved the status of ‘mates’. But that note of menace makes us wary of where this could be leading.
The relationship between the two men plays out as a kind of power struggle. Pat at first is the eager supplicant, delighted to be invited to Danny’s home and helplessly falling for Danny’s promises of ‘therapy’; Pat is plagued by violent dreams, and sometimes he finds it hard to distinguish between dreams and reality. But of course, the therapy is bogus – an excuse for Danny to live out his own fantasies of violent cruelty towards animals, the fatter the better – a sea-lion, a walrus, a polar bear. This in turn seems to reflect his feelings towards Pat’s Mum – one of the unexplained mysteries of the play is the exact nature of their relationship. As the play progresses we see Danny become increasingly insistent on Pat staying the night, even taking his keys away. Which shifts the power back to Pat – Danny needs him to combat his loneliness and isolation. Danny sees himself in Pat, and pathetically tries to revisit his childhood self with him in a hilarious but terrifying ‘worm fight’. Danny also harbours repressed desire for Pat – as the power pendulum swings back again Danny forces Pat to kiss him.
After the kiss, the power tables have turned again. Pat’s dreams of escape from his life are typically modest – a flat in Sheffield, maybe a French girlfriend – but Danny is unwilling to allow him this. If Danny can’t escape, why should Pat be allowed to? Paradoxically, Pat uses the humiliation of the assault he has suffered as a weapon to use against Danny, and Danny gives in, literally pleading on his knees for mercy, as his wife and child approach for a visit. By the end, it is undoubtedly Pat who has the upper hand, although for how long and to what effect is anyone’s guess.
Writer Joseph Skelton and director Luke Davies have created an atmospheric and intense work. As the tension becomes unbearable in each scene, sudden moments of stillness are interjected to break up the episodes, where the action freezes for an instant and we get a chance to catch our breath.
Runs until 21st July at The Hope Theatre, 207 Upper Street, Islington N1 1RL