Fat Man

Martin Bonger
Move To Stand
South Street Arts Centre

Fat Man, Martin Bonger Credit: Move to Stand

Fat Man is a subtle yet impassioned, funny yet tragic retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, a story of lost love, grief and regret. Orpheus, the great musician whose melodies can charm every living thing, loves for a short time, the beautiful Eurydice, until she is lost.

He crosses into the underworld to retrieve her, unable to live without her, only, in a moment of doubt to glance behind him just seconds too early and lose her all over again. It is a story of true love destroyed by self-doubt. But the Orpheus we meet in Martin Bonger’s solo show, has long since lived his story, and is now a washed up comedian, overweight and morose, condemned to relive his failing over and over again.

The audience are invited to sit in the presence of a man, moribund, drunk, under a heavy, slow pulsing light. A man who would seem the least likely to entrance us with music so beautiful we could not help but be spellbound. However, underneath the façade of the overweight stand up comic, weary and more bitter than entertaining, is a quietly sad story, a story to which we all know the ending.

He meets Eurydice on a bus on Oxford Street, gives her a flyer for his gig and chats to her backstage. She is an unassuming student, he is smitten. Their love is charming, honest, human. It is not the epic love of the ancient Greeks, it is simple. That one ear is higher than another, that her lips make a funny shape, these are the things they love about each other.

The modern-day version of an ancient scroll that seems to be an endless list of the tiny intricacies of ordinary things that they cherish ends too soon. Most of the roll is blank. A future that is planned but unlived. It is a touching and heartfelt moment that Orpheus relives with sorrow and anger, the kind of anger that only deep grief can inspire. The kind of anger that causes him to fling his arms in to the air to create raw beautiful music.

This story is retold half-way between the ancient and the modern, much like the afterlife he walks so boldly into, it is a murky place, where the audience are the gods to his mortality. Despite Orpheus’ obvious failings as a stand-up comic, Martin Bonger is not so blighted, and tells this story masterfully, with expert manipulation of each of our heart strings. We are left reeling from his loss, and the poignancy of the twist in his story's tail.

We are enchanted by the character’s conjuring of music, raising his hands above his head like a grand illusionist, and summoning powerful music that rocks the silence of the rest of the piece. The polyrhythmic beauty Philipe Nash's original composition bursts from his very fingertips, and surges through the space, magnetically drawing light from the theatre lamps, uncluttered and undecorated about him.

There is nothing more than a man, some lights and a small table in the space, but he fills it with all the characters of this multi-charactered story, expertly casting the audience as the gods, himself as the protagonists and the air around him is his muse. A jug that is never empty but also never pours quite enough, is all he needs to illustrate his hopelessness.

To hear Eurydice from beyond the grave, with a charming colloquial cockney accent, turn his self-centred voyage into a moment of quiet, tragic selflessness, is to be powerfully reminded that he is the one that is truly lost, not her. He is the one that needs rescuing. That in grief, we are all lost, and we would sometimes do anything we could to get that person back, even if they did not want to return. And he is left, hollow, repeating his story, and his actions, over and over again. He is Sisyphus, he is Prometheus, he is condemned.

Lighting, music, set and text are all used sparingly and expertly, to create a world as stripped back, raw and vulnerable as the character we watch, in this every day, ordinary tale of the collosal loves and losses that are silently hidden away in each of us. His story is as inconsequential as the licking of sugar from lips, but as tragic and epic as the gods themselves.

Reviewer: Liz Allum