Joe, a member of the Fat Blokes company, struts to the front of the stage. In time with the riot girl anthems that pound from the sound system, he begins to remove his suit jacket, eyes locked with fierce intent on the audience. We smile, and cheer, and then somebody laughs.
Stop the music.
Scottee finds a microphone and calls the show to a halt. Stop the fucking music. He singles the laughing audience member out. What’s so funny? He asks. The audience titter, some shuffle in their seats a little, not quite knowing how to respond. But he’s deadly serious. What’s so fucking funny?
Scottee is sick of fat people being the butt of the joke. If we were laughing at Joe, then we are complicit. Complicit in the jokes, the derision, the abuse. Complicit in perpetuating the myth that fat people can’t be sexy, that fat people are a burden on the NHS, that they lack control, that it’s their own fault they don’t conform to what popular culture tells us is beautiful. Enough is enough.
Berating the audience so early in a show is a risky strategy. But Scottee is well-known for his confrontational performance style. Once he has said his piece, he asks the person singled out for punishment if this was the cheery start to the show they had anticipated. “I would expect nothing less”, they reply, and even Scottee can’t resist a wry smile.
This is not a show about unadulterated pride or shame, it’s a demonstration. And Scottee wants to catch any latent prejudice as soon as it occurs – not forty minutes in when we have gradually understood what the show is about and how we are meant to feel about it – but at the knee jerk reaction.
It’s not nice to be told off. But it’s even worse when you know he’s right. The personal stories of abuse and mistreatment the company share range from staring and muttered insults, to abuse hurled the length of a train carriage, to the systemic class politics of food, and a life-threatening attack in the street. All are damning of a society that frequently condones prejudice through silence.
The Fat Blokes company was brought together through an open call out, so the performers’ level of stage experience varies, but the entire company perform with a fearless candour which is by turns heartfelt, hilarious, and electric.
Scottee introduces elements of the show like songs on a set list – dance pieces (choreographed by the brilliant Lea Anderson), confessional, and live moments where each performer assesses their relationship with their body in the moment.
The sense of solidarity in the company at these points and throughout is palpable. All share stories of their shifting and complex relationships with their own bodies and with society, and all are supported and celebrated no matter what.
The climax of the show is dependent on the decision of the performers, and Scottee takes great care to make sure the company feels confident and supported enough to go through with it. What follows is a heart-stopping, emotional finale fierce with rage, and exploding with pride.
Fat Blokes is on at Southbank Centre until Sunday 11th November. More info here.