Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 8 February 2015

Fat Man

The Vaults ⋄ 28th January - 14th February 2015, then touring

Superior doughnuts.

Natasha Tripney

He shoves another doughnut into his mouth, this sad man in his cheap suit and smudged shoes, his fingers wet with sugar and spit, his eyes glazed with grief. His shirt strains over a second trimester belly and his black tie sits slack at his neck. This Orpheus is caught in purgatorial cycle. The greatest musician in the world has cast aside his lyre and become a comedian with tired eyes, spilling his story nightly into the pit, telling and retelling his tale of love lost to an audience of ambivalent Gods.

Fat Man is Martin Bonger’s reworking of the Orpheus myth as a stand-up routine. Haunting the late night slots, his Orpheus is a shambling individual with a compulsive need to share the source his heart-break and bereavement; in between he banters amiably with Zeus and Persephone in the front row, while occasionally pausing to down another shot of whisky or wodge another ring doughnut into his mouth.

Both in terms of its performance and its writing, it’s a warm and subtle show, acute yet somehow graceful in its portrait of grief. We see Orpheus struggle to come to terms with the death of Eurydice, burning and bargaining and pleading to get her back. And Bonger manages to ground the whole thing, mingling the mythic with the everyday, Oxford Street and the River Styx, fearsome, farting three headed dogs and Krispy Kremes. There’s a lovely moment (one of many) when Orpheus condenses his relationship into a roll of notes which he proceeds to read and unravel, the paper turning blank all too quickly, all too soon.

Directed by Alex Swift – who also directed Caroline Horton’s magnificent Mess – the show, performed here as part of the Vault festival, sits beautifully in this subterranean space beneath Waterloo, making the most of the room’s sense of under-ness, of being beneath. Paul O’Shaughnessy’s lighting plays across the bare brick and the air is faintly fogged. The whole place has a kind of burnished glow to it. I remember sitting there and thinking, “oh my, this is prettily lit,” which is something I probably don’t consider often enough.

Like a stand-up, Bonger is a responsive performer who enfolds the auditory quirks of the venue into the show, acknowledging the Olympian thunder of trains above, even weaving the clatter and chatter of the people in the corridor outside into the fabric of the peace.

It’s in many ways a very minimal piece. One man, one microphone (more than one doughnut). But it’s so deftly done, both intelligent and moving in the way it makes the material feel alive, feel not like material at all in fact but like something lived and experienced – and lost – a still raw memory, a shine in the eye, crumbs caught in a fat man’s beard.


Natasha Tripney

Natasha co-founded Exeunt in 2011 and was editor until 2016. She's now lead critic and reviews editor for The Stage, and has written about theatre and the arts for the Guardian, Time Out, the Independent, Lonely Planet and Tortoise.

Fat Man Show Info

Directed by Alex Swift

Cast includes Martin Bonger




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