I first saw the Edmonton Actors Theatre production of John Clancy’s Fatboy at the Fringe festival in 2012, on the recommendation of a new friend. That seems like a long time ago, in my history of exploring Edmonton theatre. I liked it at the time, but I think I was confused by not knowing what to expect in the unfamiliar genre.
Two years on, I was excited to hear that Fatboy was going to be part of the Roxy Theatre’s Performance Series, with Dave Horak directing the same cast (Frederick Zbryski, Melissa Thingelstad, Mathew Hulshof, Tim Cooper and Ian Leung). Knowing more about what to expect, and having seen a bit more bouffon and other kinds of odd theatre in the interim, I did not feel as uncomfortable this time around and I enjoyed it more. It was funny that I felt closer to the action in the auditorium of the Roxy than I had upstairs at the Armoury.
The eponymous Fatboy (Frederick Zbryski) and his wife Fudgie (Melissa Thingelstad) have that kind of affectionate and acrimonious relationship that is central to a lot of comedy, but taken to extremes and excesses. Their struggles and adventures take them through three scenes, in their home, in a courtroom, and then in a throne room, with some funny addresses to the audience and musical interludes in between. The stock characters of courtroom and throne room (Mat Hulshof, Tim Cooper, Ian Leung) were funny, particularly in a sort of shared delayed guffaw, but I was most entertained by Mat Hulshof’s first-scene Tenant. I was also amused by some occasional breaking the fourth wall and conventions of theatre to comment on a double-cast character going to change costume, a comment about the Sterling awards, and so on.
Partway through, I found myself completely startled by how much this over-the-top obscene ridiculous farce was actually relevant to current government and politics. I think that in 2012 I was too busy trying to make literal sense of what I was seeing to pick up on the ways that it was saying familiar things “more truthful than fact”.
It ran about an hour and a half, which I think was a bit longer than the Fringe version. Mostly they made good use of the extra time, although a couple of bits of business dragged a bit. The costumes (Melissa Cuerrier) added to the exaggeration.