ArtSpoken & Reviews

My Fat Friend is heavy on the barbs

Lesley Stones
09/12/2016 10:15:48

Lesley Stones: It’s amazing how many jokes there about fat people.

Enough to stock an entire play with quips about this sole subject, ranging from witty one-liners and gentle teasing to mean and vicious barbs.

My Fat Friend is stuffed full of them, and part of me was laughing while another part found it all very unkind and judgmental. The success of this comedy depends on being able to laugh at someone else’s misfortune, which most of us can manage pretty well, unfortunately.

The play was written by the UK based author Charles Laurence and first performed in 1972, but since nothing has changed in our perception of what makes an acceptable body shape, it’s entirely up to date.

It’s set in a London bookshop run by the obese Victoria (Michelle Botha) who shares a house with her long-time friend Henry (Tobie Cronjé). Now both are conveniently described as expats from South Africa, so we don’t have to endure fake London accents.

Cronjé utterly revels in his role of the older gay man, a caustic queen who fires off nasty comments to his chubby pal and makes lascivious passes at James (Jeremy Richard), a shy young Scotsman who’s lodging with them as an au pair.

When a good-looking customer (Charlie Bouguenon) finds Victoria attractive and a fling begins, Henry convinces her to shed the kilos to make her sexier.

Cue the diets, exercise, constant weight watching and the abstinence from alcohol and chocolate and anything else that makes life a little less austere. Victoria, inevitably, loses her vivaciousness as well as her flab.

The play largely belongs to Cronjé, who’s in his element delivering snippy barbs and cheeky innuendoes. His timing is perfect, and he knows how to milk a scene for all its comic elements. Yet My Fat Friend is often too vicious to be dismissed as lightweight fluff, even when the rudeness is delivered with a smile.

Botha fits into the skin of Victoria very comfortably, and the two of them make a believable pair of long-term bosom buddies. Richard and Bouguenon and are also well cast in their supporting roles. Richard excels once he’s finally given chance to prove he can do more than glower and serve a cup of tea, while Bouguenon manages to become exactly the sort of man you’d be happy to get rid of.

Director André Odendaal keeps it all swinging along nicely, but the first half is certainly the sharpest before it stumbles conversationally in the second half and resorts to some farce. Then the script introduces some philosophising, partly blurred by a drunken Scottish accent, and we belatedly get to question whether conforming to the expected norms of society is actually any good for us.

The ending is fairly predictable, but it’s a jolly enough journey to get there.

My Fat Friend runs at Montecasino theatre until October 2 then moves to Cape Town’s Theatre on the Bay from November 8-26. Tickets from Computicket.

Lesley Stones is a former Brit who is now proudly South African.

She started her career by reviewing rock bands for a national UK music paper, then worked for various newspapers before spending four fun-filled years in Cairo, where she ended up editing a technology magazine.

Lesley was the Information Technology Editor for Business Day for 12 years before quitting to go freelance, specialising in travel & leisure writing and being opinionated about life in general. Her absolute passions are travel, theatre, the cinema, wining and dining.

Lesley Stones
Freelance journalist
Related Venue:
Montecasino Complex, Fourways Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa