IT IS horrible, sweaty and both characters are riven with big issues. You will hate one of them and crave for the other to get proper help. But you will come out of watching Fat Jewels better for seeing it – and probably a few pounds lighter. This is raw theatre in a sauna. Unmissable. In your face.
Directed by Luke Davies, all the action takes place in a grubby council flat in South Yorkshire. The flat belongs to Danny (Robert Walters) and it is a mess. Lager cans and takeaway rubbish litter the room as does a baby chair belonging to Danny’s young child Zac. This is no rich man’s palace. It is a poor person’s tip (hats off to set designer Andrew Skelton).
Danny is as big a mess mentally as his flat – family problems loom large – but he hides this initially as he seeks to win over the trust of family friend Pat (Hugh Train), some 20 years his junior. Danny paints himself as someone who can help young Pat escape from dark murderous thoughts about his mother (Fat Jewels) – some of which involve the misuse of a vegetable peeler. Danny’s ‘therapy’ is unconventional, mostly based around recommendations of a trip to the local zoo so that Pat can attack a sea lion with a cricket bat. A warped version of anger management.
But it soon becomes obvious that Danny is not offering vulnerable Pat the therapy he desperately needs. Far from it. He is a scheming sexual predator and slowly but surely he seeks to trap Pat in his evil sweaty web. Danny’s flat doubles up as a seedy lair.
One moment, Danny is congratulating Pat on dividing a battered sausage fairly and encouraging him to have another beer. The next he is taking his keys away from him so that he cannot go home to his mother. Laughter is followed by anger as Danny’s mood swings like a pendulum. Slowly, his own fault lines appear as we learn more about a horror attack on Zac which has left both child and father scarred. Mention the word chicken in Danny’s ear and he immediately turns into a monster.
Pat, who flips burgers for a living, is horribly vulnerable. For the most part he is in awe of Danny and seems to crave the attention he is being given by this rather vile person. Nobody loves him and he craves love. The result is that he is too eager to please. Danny feeds off this although it is not all one way traffic.
Although there is a predictability about one of the outcomes, there are enough twists and turns in this play to keep the viewer absorbed. Walters and Train are both excellent.
Walters, all smouldering menace. Train, all vulnerable. Both eminently believable. Both marginalised. Both victims. Top drawer character portrayals.
Fat Jewels, written by Joseph Skelton, makes for tough viewing, intensified by the claustrophobia – and heat – of the Hope Theatre. See it and shiver inside.
Fat Jewels runs until July 21 at the Hope Theatre, Islington, London.
Images by Laura Harling