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Fat Man, Waterloo Vaults – Review

Pros: A bold retelling of a Greek myth, with a lot of in-jokes about gods and their foibles.

Cons: The stand-up comedy is short on laughs; Bonger demands too much of his audience.

Pros: A bold retelling of a Greek myth, with a lot of in-jokes about gods and their foibles. Cons: The stand-up comedy is short on laughs; Bonger demands too much of his audience. As you take your seat in the Pit theatre at Waterloo Vaults you're struck by three things: the strong smell of damp; the uncomfortable rough wooden benches; and the bearded fat man asleep on the stage, slumped in a chair and gently snoring. He's wearing red braces under a black suit, his capacious gut straining at the buttons of his white shirt as the spotlight above him…

Summary

Rating

Good

An updated rendering of the Orpheus myth, with some good gags; but the storytelling is stretched beyond the comfort zone.

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As you take your seat in the Pit theatre at Waterloo Vaults you’re struck by three things: the strong smell of damp; the uncomfortable rough wooden benches; and the bearded fat man asleep on the stage, slumped in a chair and gently snoring. He’s wearing red braces under a black suit, his capacious gut straining at the buttons of his white shirt as the spotlight above him pulsates on and off with the rhythm of breathing.

“Who have we got in tonight?” he exclaims, sidling reluctantly up to the microphone. “Zeus! Hey, Zeus, give me some skin!” And in like manner he hails a few other Greek gods in the audience, before revealing himself to be Orpheus, “the greatest musician that ever lived”.

But Orpheus’ skills at stand-up comedy fall rather short of laughs. “Go back to the singing, I hear you cry,” he mutters at one point. He then goes on to retell the Orpheus myth, starting with his chance encounter with Eurydice on a bus going down Oxford Street: “Surely you’ve heard of me? I won the Mercury prize.”

What follows is a long, rambling and occasionally touching telling of the classic story, replete with mythological references. At the same time, the piece is given a modern treatment in its tone, language and character. “A moment before they were literally ready to sacrifice their first born for me, and now it’s, who is this guy?”

First performed at the Ovalhouse in 2014, the show seems to have lost some of its original punch, with many of the jokes not landing at all with the audience. The sole performer is Martin Bonger, who also wrote the script, and is an actor who loves to play his audience. It takes a full minute for him to scoff a doughnut on stage, during which he’s incapable of saying anything, while the audience waits patiently, supplying the occasional giggle. The second time he does it, the joke falls a little flat. He relies on a couple of magic props; an endless carafe that pours just a half a glass at a time, and a self-refilling doughnut box. Presumably that’s also where he bought his joke-shop prosthetic belly, although it’s unclear just what purpose it serves as it’s both never referred to and quite out of character for the rockstar character he’s playing.

The show lasts an hour and a quarter, although it seems like longer – and the hard benches don’t help. The moments of comedy are all too sparse, and the resulting piece comes across a little like a self-indulgent monologue with occasional moments of genuine pathos.

Writer and Performer: Martin Bonger
Director: Alex Swift
Producer: Move to Stand with LittleMighty
Box office: 0207 620 3364
Booking until: 31 January 2015
Booking link: http://www.vaultfestival.com/project/fat-man/

About Steve Caplin

Steve Caplin
Steve is a freelance artist and writer, specialising in Photoshop, who builds unlikely furniture in his spare time. He plays the piano reasonably well, the accordion moderately and the guitar badly. Steve does, of course, love the theatre. The worst play he ever saw starred Charlton Heston and his wife, who have both always wanted to play the London stage. Neither had any experience of learning lines. This was almost as scarring an experience as seeing Ron Moody performing a musical Sherlock Holmes. Steve has no acting ambitions whatsoever.