Theatregoers at our sell-out Whatsonstage.com Outing to the UK premiere production of Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig at the West End’s Trafalgar Studios last night (1 July 2008) were treated to an exclusive post-show discussion with the play’s four stars – Robert Webb, Kris Marshall, Ella Smith and Joanna Page.

Fat Pig premiered at the Off-Broadway MCC Theatre in 2005. Examining notions of conventional beauty, it tells the story of Tom (Webb), who faces the indignation of his friends when he introduces them to his new, super-sized girlfriend Helen (Smith). Can Tom come to terms with his own preconceptions of the importance of stereotypical good looks in the face of such disdain?

Writer/director Neil LaBute was last represented in the West End by Some Girls, which starred Friends’ David Schwimmer in 2005, and a revival of The Shape of Things with Hollywood’s Alicia Witt in 2004. His plays The Mercy Seat, The Distance from Here, Bash and The Shape of Things have all had premiere runs at London’s Almeida Theatre, while This Is How It Goes was seen at the Donmar Warehouse in 2005.

Last night’s discussion took place in the theatre immediately after the performance and was chaired by Whatsonstage.com editorial director Terri Paddock. For more photos and feedback, visit our Outings Blog and for details of upcoming events, click here. Edited highlights from the Q&A follow …


On Neil LaBute

Robert Webb: I’m going to dive a bit off message and say I’d never heard of him before, but I read the play and thought “oh that’s quite upsetting and funny”.

Joanna Page: I’d seen some of his films like In the Company of Men and I wanted to work with him because I thought he was fantastic.

Ella Smith: I had seen The Shape of Things in London and just thought he was a great guy. I was a bit worried about meeting him because of what he writes about but he was the complete opposite of that.

Kris Marshall: Well, I had seen a couple of his films and one play - but just wanted to work with him to further my career!

Webb: I was slightly apprehensive about him as I thought “if he can write this stuff, what’s he going to be like to have lunch with?!” But he was a very laid back, friendly, funny guy and rehearsals were very practical and straightforward, there was no arsing around.

Marshall: He is just a very normal man with a very dark underbelly.

On the necessity of the US setting

Marshall: If it was set in the UK, you’d need to change the whole dynamic of the play because there are lines that just wouldn’t work in English.

Webb: It’s written in that idiom and that’s how it should stay. There are also slight cultural differences such as when Tom and Helen are suddenly having this slightly flirtatious chat in the middle of a café, and neither of them are drunk! Nobody has a knife! If that was two English people, it would just look strange.

In the UK our perception is that obesity is a bit more of an issue in the States, but I don’t think that is what the play is actually about. It is a low-key modern tragedy about a deeply unremarkable man who screws his only chance of happiness up because he wants to just chill out and go with the flow. It’s partly about peer pressure and it’s partly about size, but it’s really just about a guy being a dick!

On the character of Tom (played by Robert Webb)

Marshall: I would say that Tom is actually worse than my character, Carter. Carter is at least a voice of reason who says “this is the path I am walking down and I’m not going to make excuses for it” whereas Tom ums and ahs, changes his mind, promises people things and then doesn’t deliver.

Webb: Tom is a bit of a player character, and I can sympathise with him a bit because really he is an oblique and lonely guy. He says things like “I’ve never been this relaxed around anyone but my mother”. Bloody hell, really? Look at the guys he hangs out with, he doesn’t really have any friends. He says “I like the person I am when I’m with her”.

Smith: When I first had the meeting for the part I nearly didn’t get it as I asked Neil LaBute what the hell does my character see in Tom? But then I read the play and saw that he was a great character and Rob does it so beautifully.

On obesity

Webb: I disagree that it’s generally acceptable in this country to be prejudiced about the issue of obesity. It\'s important to at least acknowledge your own prejudice if you are going to be any sort of decent human being and do something about it. Carter acknowledges his prejudice but embraces it - he is not battling it, whilst Tom is trying to have a slight battle but is losing.

Smith: Nobody says anything to my character’s face. She is very good at taking each person she meets at face value, and I think she has enough confidence to think other people will do that too. I think that’s why she is so brave.

Webb: She needs to be!

On the final scene

Smith: I think it’s important to remember what love does to people - you start acting how you shouldn’t. I don’t think Ella thinks Tom is going to say yes (to her offer of having her stomach stapled) or dump her but she is just trying to say “look, this is how much you mean to me and if you want me to do it, I will do it!” I think at the end there is that inkling of fear that it wouldn’t be ok, so when he does leave her there is a certain element that she could see it coming but just hoped it wouldn’t.

On the future of Jeannie & Carter’s relationship

Marshall: I think they definitely have a future!

Page: I think they have an awful lot in common with each other.

Marshall: It would be on a very shallow basis.

Webb: They’d spend a lot of time talking about how great the other one looks naked and why Carter doesn’t earn more money.

Marshall: And slagging other people off!

Page: I bet they would actually have a really good time.

- by Theo Bosanquet & Melissa Rynn