Orpheus, mighty prophet of Greek legends, has seen better days. Fat, sweaty and in desperate need of a shave, we find him slumped in a chair, possibly comatose from the sugary doughnuts and alcohol beside him. Robbed of the love of his life Eurydice by the eternal flames of the underworld, Orpheus has abandoned his music and taken up stand up comedy to regale his story to an audience transformed into the gods of legend.
Four- some might say unlucky- audience members become Persephone, Hades, Cupid, Zeus and the butt of Orpheus’s jokes for one night. In the dark and intimate Oval House Theatre, there is nowhere to hide. Irreverent he may be, but Orpheus ultimately recognises the power that the gods wield and to see Eurydice again, he has to state his case like a witness to a jury.
Fat Man, Matt Bonger’s solo act, is a retelling of a Greek myth like you could never imagine, an intriguing blend of stand up comedy interspersed with storytelling, bad singing, music, poetry and Ricky Gervais style dancing, performed within the confines of a very convincing fat suit. Bonger bridges the godly with the ungodly, always with tongue stuck firmly in his cheek. Orpheus meets Eurydice while boarding a London bus- on Oxford Street of all places- smitten after Cupid shoots him in the heart. I’m sure many people can relate to this sensation, albeit on a mundane and earthly level. Having no Oyster card or money is no obstacle to Orpheus, who dodges the fare to invite Eurydice to watch him perform for £30 at one of his gigs. Shortly after settling down in marital bliss, Eurydice dies and Orpheus follows her down to the underworld as a living man to rescue her, in what turns out to be a botched journey.
Orpheus is not meant to be funny. In fact many of his jokes are downright cringe worthy- every act or bad joke ended with a theatrical “BA-DOOM!” Despite all his hubris, he cuts a rather desperate, distraught figure; whenever he’s not breaking down in tears, he drinks from a never-ending container that magically pours the same measure every time.
Bonger has focused his story on the human condition, giving it a human touch and a heart. Orpheus’s humanity is laid bare for the audience to see. Down in the underworld, Orpheus might use his voice to get across the river of sticks, but he grieves like a human, eating himself fat out of grief. If you are wondering why the play is called Fat Man– the proof is in the pudding, or should that be the doughnut? His doughnut binges are a great analogy for the circle of life, something that can be consumed or, in the case of his receipt roll, scrawled with poetry and touching memories, “your ears are at different heights, you talk like a duck.” Something that eventually runs out.
It is telling that of all the names Bonger could have chosen for the play he chose Fat Man, which refers to a man so deeply unhappy that he eats himself fat, rather than directly alluding to its mythical roots. Fat Man is a personal journey, out of a troubled past which, despite all the bad jokes, is heart-warming and poignant. Whether you’re familiar with the myth or not, it is sure to touch a chord, and not just one played from Orpheus’ guitar! 4/5
Review written by Evan Parker.
Fat Man is currently showing at the Ovalhouse Theatre until Saturday 19th July. For more information on the production, visit here…