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Fat Pig

February 16, 2014

FatPig1(picture courtesy of Pangdemonium Productions)

Event: “Fat Pig” by Pangdemonium Productions
Venue: DBS Arts Centre
Run: 13th Feb – 2nd Mar 2014

Big Girls Don’t Cry

Fresh off from being far and away the top-nominated company for this year’s Life! Theatre Awards with 14 nominations, Pangdemonium hits the ground running once again by kicking off the 2014 season with a prickly play called “Fat Pig”.

“Fat Pig” is written by American playwright Neil LaBute, and had its off-Broadway premiere in 2004.

It tells of a somewhat plus-sized librarian named Helen (played by 23-year-old Frances Lee), and the events that transpire after she gets into a relationship with svelte and good-looking Tom (Gavin Yap).

What seemed like a fairly innocuous relationship between two happy, young professionals in a large urban city soon turns into a horrible nightmare when word of Tom’s relationship with Helen starts to get out to his colleagues such as the insensitive and mean-spirited Carter, as well as Jeannie from the accounts department, whom he had been previously dating on-and-off for some time.

“Fat Pig” touches on an issue which is seldom addressed in theatre, and that is the issue of being overweight, especially as it pertains to females.

And this couldn’t be more applicable to a culture like Singapore’s, which places an extremely high premium on physical perfection, both in terms of body shape and size, as well as facial features.

Ours is a culture which is notoriously intolerant towards the bulge, which results in both an unhealthy obsession in women to constantly achieve the desired body image as portrayed by the media, as well as a low level of self-esteem for those who are unable to do so.

And these sentiments are captured perfectly in the opening scenes of “Fat Pig”, where Helen feels self-conscious – almost apologetic – that Tom actually takes a liking to her and wishes to date her.

She also displays over-sensitivity in many respects, often by putting herself down with comments about her own diet and weight when Tom doesn’t even seem to take issue with it.

But alas, even though both Tom and Helen seem to be getting along nicely in the relationship, when Carter gets wind of the fact that Tom is dating someone like Helen, he unleashes a barrage of insensitive comments which makes Tom question his decision, while at the same time circulating Helen’s photo to the rest of the company so that everyone can get a good laugh out of it.

To make matters worse, Jeannie, who is both slim and attractive, finds it a complete insult that Tom would have ditched her for someone nearly twice her size, and just cannot wrap her head around why a good-looking guy like Tom would think he has found true happiness dating someone like Helen.

Frances Lee, only 23 years of age, is such a natural on stage and plays the role of Helen beautifully, while Gavin Yap, whom I last saw in W!ld Rice’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”, brings a sense of irresistible charm and magnetism to the stage and is the glue which brings the whole production together.

Zachary Ibrahim does a fine job as Carter too (you can tell he did a convincing job when you actually start to detest his character), and Elizabeth Lazan’s screaming match scene with Gavin was a sight to behold.

A loud shout-out has to be given once again to set designer Eucien Chia – a theatre magician if I ever saw one – for creating a seemingly endless array of locales on just a small stage (cafeteria, office, bedroom, restaurant, beach), with efficient planning and clever use of storage spaces.

Ultimately, “Fat Pig” raises the question of whether a relationship is really just between two people, or if it also involves the endorsement of friends and loved ones as well.

Is it enough if the two of you love each other deeply, or would you be rattled by the jibes and taunts of the people around you?

Would your relationship be able to survive the disapproval of others?

How much of your decision to love someone is because of what you think others may think of her, and how much of it is because you truly love her?

As the title itself suggests, “Fat Pig” isn’t going to make for comfortable viewing.

It is downright provocative, and there will be moments which make you go “Eww, I can’t believe he/she actually said that!”, and that is the whole point of it all really.

But beneath the discomforting veneer lies a meaningful and well fleshed-out romantic tale about love in the midst of prejudice, played by a young but highly-competent cast, and with excellent and well thought-out production values.

It’s merely the start of the 2014 season, but it seems like Pangdemonium has picked up right where it left off last year, and there seems to be no stopping the juggernaut.

And at the rate it is going, it’s hard not to imagine Pangdemonium garnering another record haul of Life! Theatre nominations again next year.

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