Review – Fat Pig, Trafalgar Studios

Thursday 22 May 2008

Some things are clearly not meant to be.

The Whingers were fully expecting to be able to review their own West End stage debuts in Fat Pig.

Having missed out on making their Broadway debuts in both Xanadu and the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee they leapt at the chance to secure on-stage seating at the new Neil LaBute play at the Trafalgar Studios.

Andrew had got himself into a right old tizzy of excitement. He had spent weeks planning his “performance”, trying to pin down the nuances of his character (sadly elusive) and, most importantly, deciding what he should wear to draw most attention to himself. He eschewed Phil’s offer of his favourite fashion item of the moment: a Sarah Jessica Parker style fascinator, instead settling for his old favourite “Ignore Me. I’m Just Reviewing Your Performance” t-shirt.

But their plans were cruelly dashed.

Those cunning people at the Trafalgar Studios had obviously got wind of the Whingers’ plans for they were summarily stopped at the door and sent to the box office where a jolly woman explained that they had been “upgraded” from £25 to £45 seats. Had this been a long haul BA flight they might have been excited but Andrew was crushed.

Yes, the theatre had seemingly gone to the extraordinary length of reconfiguring the seating so that the Whingers’ seats actually no longer existed.

As it happens one of their second row stalls seat proved to be excellent, but the one next to it had a very restricted view of the stage as it had the tallest-person-in-the-front-row sitting directly in front of it. To add to the general disgruntlement, several scenes took place sitting or lying on the floor of the stage so it was a pretty poor state of affairs. And this was in the sharply raked (but unforgiving) Trafalgar Studio 1 auditorium. Don’t directors ever check sightlines?

The only silver lining was that the remaining on-stage seats weren’t really on stage at all, just at the side.

Anyhoo what of the play? Well, it stars a group of people off the telly (“the country’s hottest actor-comedians” according to the publicity).

Phil – who embraces such modern modes of entertainment – knew a couple of them but Andrew who famously (and rather loftily) claims not to “do telly” was a bit vague. But the theatre was packed out, so the clever producers’ plan had obviously worked. Judging by the difficulty many of the audience had in matching the letters and numbers on their tickets to the seats, these people were not – in the main – regular theatre-goers eager to catch the latest LaBute.

The story: Tom (Robert Webb as in Mitchell & Webb) meets Helen (Ella Smith) at lunch. They get on well and start dating. But Helen is the titular Fat Pig and Tom finds himself trying to conceal the burgeoning relationship from his work colleagues – mischievous plonker Carter (Kris Marshall) and jilted Jeannie (Joanna Page).

When they eventually find out, the viciousness of office jokes about Helen’s size take a typically LaButian turn. Think watered-down In the Company of Men replacing deafness with obesity.

The Whingers could identify with this. They are used to having insults thrown as them (Fram has produced the best of recent times: “technically closer to wanking than whinging”) and, indeed, throwing them at each other.

The opening scene is one of the funniest of the play, Webb, of course, has good comedy tics and timing. Smith is superb too and easily the most convincingly American English person on the London stage at the moment.

So convincing in fact that as the Whingers were collared by her in the pub afterwards another punter (who the Whingers deftly swatted away) came up to ask her if she really was from the States.

Anyway, as well as being very funny, Fat Pig is utterly engaging and even the cold hearts of the Whingers were touched by this tale of the tribulations of love, of how difficult honesty can be and of third eyes (Not literally, obviously. But that might make quite a good play too).

There were only a couple of whinges. Andrew spent each scene change with his fingers in his ears to shut out the very over-loud rock music, and Phil was unconvinced by the final beach scene in which Webb was wearing a pair of Next underpants beneath his shorts. Does Next have a presence in the US? Phil made a mental note to check but never got round to it.

Footnote 1: In Which The West End Turns The Corner

A few weeks ago the Whingers received one of their oddest requests to date: to recommend two musicals and two plays for a visiting diplomatic dignitary (who we have been asked not to name in order not to risk starting some terrible international incident). We managed to come up with Hairspray and Major Barbara and then got a bit stuck.

While drumming up a second musical recommendation might still be a bit of an effort (Marguerite at a push), this week has increased the list of recommended plays threefold: The Pitmen Painters and now Fat Pig.

The Whingers are clearly on a roll. What could possibly go wrong now?

Footnote 2: Interesting names found in programmes #2

Following on from the wonderfully named wardrobe mistress Traipsy Drake in God of Carnage the Whingers were beguiled to see that Fat Pig‘s Associate Director is Cat Totty.


38 Responses to “Review – Fat Pig, Trafalgar Studios”

  1. On the subject of names: there was a Lex Shrapnel amongst the company for the RSC Histories.

    As for the play, I’ve always been a bit wary of Neil LaBute, and thought he was overrated as a writer, but maybe I’ll give this a shot.

  2. webcowgirl Says:

    I’d send the diplomat to see The 39 Stairs – it is really quite a good time. And, I don’t know, why not Pygmalion? It’s so very English!

  3. webcowgirl Says:

    Ack! I mean The 39 Steps!

  4. Lex Shrapnel – son of the magnificently craggy John Shrapnel –

    I’m rather looking forward to this when the press are let in next week, given that I’m so big I have my own postcode…

  5. betsy Says:

    Interval drinks, don’t bother. If you didn’t like other LaBute, this is no different. Soap-opera dull writing, predictable storytelling, a couple of the usual LaBute villains. Can’t think why the usually perceptive whingers decided they liked it. Perhaps they got to the merlot before the show…

  6. neil Says:

    it’s so easy to bitch, betsy. even easier to be one. happily you’ve succeeded at both.

    quit writing letters and write a play of your own. let me know when it’s on in the west end–i’ll look forward to seeing it and responding. can’t wait, in fact.


  7. Apparently the painful loud music is a customary device from this writer/director. He doesn’t like audiences to be able to communicate with each other. Or at least that’s the inference from Times Online

    “For his London production of The Shape of Things, he played deafening rock music between scenes so the audience would be isolated from each other”

    So we were left not only with lighter wallets, sunken hearts and a bad taste in the mouth, but also ringing in the ears. Yeah, thanks for that.

    As for the assertion here again as elsewhere, that only successfully published authors should be entitled to voice an opinion… Ah , that’s the same trait again isn’t it, hankering back to the days of broadcast-only media. If you want to deliver your ideas and wordstreams to a captured and compliant audience that’s inhibited from responding with their own opinions, then it’s simple. Stop writing for the entertainment industry and become a schoolteacher or a preacher.

  8. neil Says:


    already tried the schoolteacher route, thanks–i probably made less money than even you do. well, maybe not…

    as for new media, go for it. it’s a bit of a beggar’s revolution but i’m game. have an opinion. write it down. that’s awesome. just don’t expect anybody to care.


  9. betsy Says:

    Neil (if this is in fact Neil),

    Why would i want to bitch? i paid money to see your show. I wanted to be moved, to be entertained, to be made to think. In the end, for much of the play, i was bored. The characters weren’t particularly interesting. The story didn’t go to any unexpected places. There’s one interesting, complicated moment where you have a fat actor on stage in a bikini (something to do with the way she’s not acting fat, and there’s a lot of abuse in the play). Otherwise, there was nothing I couldn’t have imagined from reading a synopsis.

    This is a place to share opinions. I’ve given mine. I do my job, in public, and it’s not so easy either . If I do it badly, I expect people to comment. If your job is putting up plays in th West End, then it’s up to you to make a decent fist of it, or to respect people’s opinions when they pay to see your work, and they find that they’re bored.


  10. JohnnyFox Says:

    Interesting about the loud music as an audience-shushing device between scenes.

    Clearly an idea shared by Martin Crimp as during the costume changes for ‘The City’ the Royal Court played the sound of, well, chattering audiences loudly enough to stop the real ones doing it.

    Last Thursday it succeeded in shutting up both Harold Pinter and Antonia Fraser, which deserves some sort of Olivier award in itself.

  11. JohnnyFox Says:

    Betsy, you say ” I do my job, in public, and it’s not so easy either . If I do it badly, I expect people to comment. ”

    Are you a hooker?

  12. Tamara Says:

    Haha! Too funny, Johnny Fox. too funny. I suspect Neil is getting what he wants in causing all this discussion and good for him. I loved the play. Very touching. Thanks for the recommendation Whingers!

  13. betsy Says:

    corporate whore 😦

  14. Why can’t Neil be Betsy too? After all, he does specialise in writing dialogue. Surprised that he can be bothered to comment on comments left on blogs, but it’s a hell of a compliment to the Whingers.

    Names? The best in London at the moment must surely be Darren Victory who is currently appearing in Dirty Dancing.

  15. I think Betsy’s comments show a maturity and sense of perspective quite absent from those of the person who implies that he’s Neil LaBute. This is why I think he’s a fake: it’s the only charitable conclusion.

  16. We feel it only fair to point out (and thank you to Mark Shenton for reading the Fat Pig programme notes on our behalf; we did mean to get round to it eventually) that the real NLB (whom this may or may not be) is not impressed by blogs:

    “We’re a hugely narcissistic bunch – the internet and its many horrid little offshoots (blogs, facebook, youtube, etc) have proved that.”

    Horrid little offshoot. Well, we’ve been called worse.

  17. Peter Says:

    Of course the man pretending to be Neil LaBute is not really him! His idiom marks him as English, not American. No American even knows, let alone uses, the term “beggar’s revolution.” No, lowercase neil is a sad pathetic figure who’s trying to hijack the identity of a vastly more famous figure. Ignore him, that’s all he merits.

  18. Peter Says:

    Incidentally, I saw Fat Pig when it was first staged four years ago off-Broadway with Jeremy Piven as Tom. I thought it was awful for the same reasons cited by betsy.

  19. olive Says:

    Bring the diplomats in and quick!

  20. Emilia Says:

    Did ‘neil’ ever actually claim to be Neil LeBute? He might just be Neil Lawson or Neil Lewis or Neil Logan or Neil Sampson. I must say, my first thought wasn’t that it was the author responding to a blog comment..that would be preposterous!

  21. […] out on making their Broadway debuts in both Xanadu and the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee stage version of ‘Gone with the Wind’ blown away: report TODAYonlineActress Jill Paice L and […]

  22. neil Says:

    sorry gang, i’ve been absent–and yes it’s me, neil, the one american who apparently knows what a “beggar’s revolution” is and of course you can say what you want here–like it, don’t like it, find it boring, etc.–go on, have a field day. this is the one place that anybody might be bored or stupid enough to listen to you. sorry to have taken up a few hours of your lives, betsy and peter, i’d give them back if i could (not really, but it makes me sound good), but i can’t. so i won’t. tell you what, if you spot me in a lobby or on the street one day you can ask for your money back–i might even give it to you.

    there? are we even? can we all get back to our little lives now? I’m sure you’ve got some other inane blogging to do–
    i don’t want to be responsible for taking time away from photos of your company picnic or something important.

    good luck in the future.


  23. betsy Says:


    it’s good to see your understanding of your characters is matched by your love for your audience. it’s what makes you such a fascinating playwright, and saves you from meretricious mediocrity –


  24. Usher 75 Says:

    People are complaining the music is too loud. One guy refused to take his seat which was next to the speakers. I told him the levels were set and nothing could be done. Or can it?

  25. Usher – I fear the volume of the music may be what is termed an “artistic decision” and therefore the comfort, preferences and interests of patrons are entirely irrelevant.

  26. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    Betsy and Neil, you really should get down and dirty with each other, you’re
    obviously falling in love through these pages.
    Imagine the first West End Whingers wedding. We’re off to buy our hats.

  27. Usher 75 Says:

    I explained about the “artistic decision”, didn’t work i’m afraid.

  28. Ed Avis Says:

    The play was spoiled for me by the cringing awfulness of Robert Webb and Joanna Page’s accents. Apart from the fat one, the cast were so British-seeming in voice and mannerism that they should have just set the play on this side of the Atlantic – or shipped across actors who can do the job properly.

  29. Peter Says:

    Betsy, it’s not the playwright, just a sad soul who continues to pretend he is. I do wonder about the mental condition of a man who, given the vast numbers of celebrities and public figures he could impersonate, chooses Neil LaBute. I mean, that’s not really a very effective pick-up line, is it: “Hi, I’m Neil LaBute.” I think someone should get in touch with the real playwright and warn him about a potential stalker. It is funny to see him write a blog post in which he ridicules other people for posting on blogs. I do have to say that the fake NL is vastly more entertaining than the real one’s plays so he gets points for that.

  30. Harper Says:

    Oh, that’s LaBute alright, every sharp worded bit(e) of those replies. I’ve seen it before. Fat Pig is a decent show, well written, I think, and, obviously well defended by it’s creator, something you have to admire, that he cares enough about what the audiences think to read their comments.

  31. Usher 75 Says:

    Ladies and Gents,

    I am pleased to announce that the artistic decision concerning the music has been revised and the producers have agreed to turn down the volume.

    Andrew, I agree. Artistic desisions shoulde be made to challenge an audience in a quest for originality. However in this case, I fear profitability is more important. Especially after such fine reviews in the press.

    So what the audience wants might be irrelevant to writers/directors ect., but it is vital to the producers (and that might even explain the casting) who unfortunatly have the right to suppress artistic expression.

    So there, we got what we wanted. Let’s see what else we can whinge about.

  32. Jay Says:

    No mention of the food!

  33. Peter Says:


    I have to disagree with your characterization of NL’s response as “well defended.” Look at his posts; in response to criticism, he tells the writer she’s not entitled to say anything because she hasn’t staged her own West End play! Really, talk about a response that is besides the point. Then his posts descend into a personal attack into the poster’s occupation, coupled by a bizarre and apparently unironic blog rant about what a waste of time it is to blog, finished off with an offer to refund the ticket price, even though no one had suggested they wanted their money back! Those aren’t “well defended” counterpoints; those responses are thin-skinned and mentally unhinged.

  34. Usher 26 Says:

    I think Peter is the real LaBute.

  35. Harper Says:


    He gives his pov. Does it have to make sense? How many other blog posts fall into flame wars? I’ll bet you the contents of the Queen’s purse it’s LaBute, rant or not, ironic or not. Hell, I’d not refund anyone, either. As far as his feelings about people having a go at his work, I guess I’d be the same. When you have a string of hits on the West End, then you have the right to be righteous about my work.

  36. […] – Fat Pig – Comedy Theatre After reading the Whingers’ enthusiastic review of Fat Pig, I was eager to go … but apparently the cat was out of the bag, and night after night I was […]

  37. Andonio Says:

    Her real name is Tracy Drake but she changed it years ago to Traipsy Drake

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