Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Fat Blokes is a polemic: an angry attack on a culture which shames people for their bodies, and – specifically – ridicules and emasculates large men. It’s also charming, funny, tender and shocking: a consciousness-raising cabaret for our times.
The tone is set from the start, when a lone dancer (Joe) initiates a strip tease. The audience is laughing, but the music stops abruptly and the lights snap up. ‘What’s so fucking funny?’ asks Scottee, whose brainchild this is. And so begins a hybrid dance-show-spoken-word-protest-rebellion piece, and our chance to learn more about the five performers – Joe, Scottee, Asad, Sam and Gez – the men inhabiting the bodies. It’s compelling stuff.
The dance element is inspired. The stories themselves are – of course – central to the piece, but the choreography (by Lea Anderson) forces us to acknowledge the men’s physicality, to accept not just who they are, but what they are as well. And why shouldn’t they enjoy their own bodies? Not everyone fits within the narrow parameters of what’s considered acceptable; they can’t. And can anyone seriously argue that those who fall outside arbitrary beauty standards are any less deserving of respect?
The message here is simple and direct, but the piece is never less than challenging. The men’s stories are heartbreakingly mundane, and that’s what makes them so powerful. There are men like this on every street in every town, but they’re rendered invisible, reduced to headless photographs illustrating obesity epidemics, or the funny-loser-fat-best-friend in films and on TV. We never get to see their tears, their rage, the truth of who they are.
Jen McGinley’s staging is simple, but stirringly effective, with a backdrop of fridges and video projections, designed by Adam Young.
In some ways, this feels like a companion piece (a brother?) to Mighty Heart’s verbatim production, When I Feel Like Crap I Google Kim Kardashian Fat (https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2016/08/07/when-i-feel-like-crap-i-google-kim-kardashian-fat/), which explores women’s complex relationships with how they look. It has the same poignancy and urgency, the same ultimate celebratory tone: we are here and we will not be silenced.
Scottee is an engaging presenter: demanding and furious, sure, but also witty and kind. A forceful, fascinating show.