Much expense has been spared in decorating The Pit at The Vaults in Waterloo. It’s a high-ceilinged, windowless railway-arch room with brick walls on which remain only remnants of the original white paint. The atmosphere is musty, the far wall looks damp. It’s the sort of malignant atmosphere you fear will give you a lung disease.
Luckily Fat Man is partly set in hell, for which the surroundings stand in rather too well.
Martin Bonger stars in this one man show that retells the main Orpheus myth. Orph himself has grown up and appears to want to be a stand up comedian. The Greek gods have collected together and he is entertaining them with the Whoops-shouldn’t-have-turned-round tale for which he and Eurydice are famous. Bonger points at a few audience members and says how nice it is to see Zeus, Cupid and other residents of Mount Olympus in the crowd. He spots the Fates towards the back of the room – he hopes they won’t get bored as they already know the story. Presumably the rest of the Greek crowd do as well, given that some of them star in it – and you know how word gets around on Mount Olympus.
Bonger’s Orpheus is obnoxious, crude and no longer Greek. His waistline has expanded and he has picked up an American accent. You can’t imagine statues of him being admired. It’s doubtful painters would find him an attractive subject, although Rubens might still be interested.
We hear his story from the beginning, where the details immediately deviate from the original myths. Orpheus would have us believe he met Eurydice on a London bus. With many asides and interactions with the imagined crowd of gods, he slowly outlines the Orphean myth. But the character is unnecessarily sweary, the laughs relatively few (some of them merely coming after expletives) and the protracted telling of the well-known story becomes trying.
Orpheus might be attempting stand-up, but the production is still divided into scenes. Between these he pours himself a drink from a jug Dionysus would have appreciated. Every time it is used it appears to have been emptied, but it magically refills before being poured again.
The best scene of the show is undoubtedly when the stand up schtick is left behind for a while and Orpheus wanders through Hades calling out for Eurydice. A hazy theatrical smog summons up the underworld and demonstrates Orpheus’ pain. With the dirty bricks of the walls in the background it appears like a scene from Jean Cocteau’s version of the myth, Orphée .
Bonger is an engaging performer. Clad in blue suit, red braces and with an enormous (hopefully false) stomach he takes control of the stage. His physicality is impressive, as is his ability to make some people laugh merely by eating doughnuts. He gives Orpheus a few good lines – when I sing inflation stops – being a favourite. But the wild, in-yer-face, nature of the delivery takes away from Orpheus’ tale. He would be entitled to appear as a man using humour to cover pain – but in fact comes across as what Edmund Blackadder would term a fat git.