FATBOY
Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh
August, 2004
****

Mike McShane is wearing padding. The Canadian comedian, best known in the UK for his impro appearances on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, may still be an imposing 250lb or so, but he has lost around one-third of his body weight after having his stomach surgically restricted. As a result, he needs artificial augmentation to take the title role in John Clancy's new show.

Luckily, McShane's performance is as big as ever. He goes full pelt for the grotesque, with scowling whiteface make-up, a bellow that sounds like Rod Steiger doing WC Fields, and a relish for high-volume torrents of expletives. All of which is entirely fitting, since what Clancy (the prime mover behind the Americana Absurdum company) has done here is to adapt Alfred Jarry's Ubu plays into a 70-minute three-act blitzkrieg.

The word is well chosen, since Fatboy is clearly not only Ubu, but also modern-day America the kind of America that appears in the poems of Harold Pinter: a lumbering, brutal boor who rapes the resources around him, casually slaughters any who question his approach and suborns the process of justice to place himself above the law. "I should warn you, sir," says a sleek assassin, squaring off against him, "I am a professional." Fatboy retorts, "And I should warn you, fuckface, I'm an enthusiast!" It's not what you'd call a work of subtle disputation, but in an impressively unrestrained production it shows that Jarry can still make a contemporary point rather than simply constituting a lurid piece of theatrical archaeology.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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