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Scottee: Fat Blokes

Scottee with Lea Anderson
HOME and the Southbank Centre
HOME Manchester
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The glib saying is that within every fat man there is a thin one trying to get out. In Fat Blokes, Scottie, who developed the play in collaboration with chorographer Lea Anderson, suggests this ‘inner man’ might also be angry; very angry.

Fat Blokes touches on the uncomfortable fact that, in this hyper-sensitive age, it is still socially acceptable to poke fun at, and criticise the lifestyle of, fat people. This is especially the case in the entertainment industry where fat actors are inevitably cast as ‘the best friend’ or the comic relief. Scottee goes even further suggesting efforts to deter people from being overweight on health grounds amount to a form of bullying.

Scottee’s confrontational style is so extreme it risks being alienating. The opening of Fat Blokes challenges perceptions of fat people by appearing to pander to them. As the audience enters, what look like a pair of bouncers are on stage wearing dark suits with too-tight jackets straining over ample stomachs. The opening dance, a deliberately clumsy number emphasising the bulk of the dancer, is interrupted by a blaze of light and Scottie informing the audience, in no uncertain terms, Fat Blokes is not the sort of show that supports the myth of overweight people being funny or even happy.

The approach is decidedly intimidating. Fat Blokes is fat rebellion—intended to support those who, even if not content with their size, do wish to be pressured to change. Scrawled slogans appear on the walls throughout the show. At times you wonder if the audience the show is intended to satisfy is limited to those on stage as Scottee makes clear it is not intended for anyone with an interest in dance, theatre or, presumably, entertainment. Responding to any of the points made by Scottie, even when invited to do so, is a risky business. The atmosphere is uncertain with the audience wondering if they are allowed to express approval by applauding or expected to sit in respectful silence.

Apart from the author, the cast comprises four plus-sized people (Asad Ullah, Joe Spencer, Sam Buttery and Gez Mez) who have never acted before. Their autobiographical observations widen the scope of the play by reflecting on how social class and culture can promote obesity. The Punjabi culture links happiness with over-eating and a working class diet, determined by low incomes and limited time for food preparation, relies on high-calorie ready meals. The myth of overweight people being happy is challenged or subverted with tales of bullying or of how a comic persona was adopted as a shield from such mistreatment.

Lea Anderson’s choreography reflects both the undertone of anger in the play and the absolute refusal to feel any shame at being overweight or to conform to accepted aesthetic standards. The cast stride angrily around the stage as if looking for a fight or pogo up and down allowing their ample flesh to shake and shudder.

There are moments in Fat Blokes where you think ‘’Yes, but….’’. Scottie’s angry dismissal of health warnings from medical professionals and being stereotyped as a drain on an over-burdened health service seems self-destructive when you consider the evidence suggesting being overweight really is a life-reducing health risk. But then Fat Blokes is a bit like over-indulging—an intoxicating experience that is hard to resist even when you know it might not be good for you.

David Cunningham