Raving Mask’s Theatre’s sweltering new production, Fat Jewels at the Hope Theatre, is a brave attempt to get under the skin of two lonely and marginalised men.
In the living room of a Yorkshire council estate, space heater on full blast, we meet Pat and Danny. Pat, who begins the play gullible and easy to please, is having disturbingly violent dreams he can’t shake. Danny, a local guy ostracised for letting his son’s face be mauled by a rooster, thinks he knows how to help him.
Over the next 70 minutes, with the two actors stripping down as it gets warmer and warmer, Danny reveals his form of ‘therapy’. To get the violent thoughts out by being violent, yelling at each other, punching a cat, clubbing a big oily sea lion at the zoo. Danny prods Pat, riling him up for a fight. He is the predator coercing Danny to stay a bit longer and have another beer, for sinister ends that only become clear in the final act. Both actors handle the fast-paced dialogue extremely well and both have moments to shine turning their hand to the surreal comedy as well as they do to the moments of anger.
The threat of violence hangs heavy over the script, every conversation can quickly turn into a fight. A schoolboy game involving fighting in sleeping bags finishes with Pat on his knees as Danny threatens to bash his head in with the cricket bat. Just the kind of dangerous toxic masculinity director Luke Davies is trying to explore. He said in a recent article;
‘In the UK, three-quarters of all suicides are men. Men make up over 90% of the prison population and over 85% of the homeless population. You are three times more likely to have alcohol dependency issues if you are male, and three times more likely to commit a violent crime.’ Fat Jewels is an attempt to work out why men, and particularly working-class men in the UK are disenfranchised and isolated and the danger it can cause.
My main criticism of Fat Jewels is that in an effort to unearth as much as possible about its subject matter, it has a bit too much going on. The gaze of the script shifts from Pat’s violent nightmares to Danny’s sinister therapy techniques, the rooster incident, his isolation from his wife and eventual molestation of Pat. Each new revelation takes the air out of the tension writer Joseph Skelton is trying to create, meaning what should be the grand final release at the end of the show doesn’t have quite enough wind in its sails to make the impact it intends to.
Photography by Laura Harling.