Thursday, 9 December 2010

To love, and be loved. Difficult enough to be there for many of us. Put Gay and Disabled into the mix and it's even trickier. But the yearning is, of course, still there.

I've seen plenty of plays, films (yes Moulin Rouge), books and poems on the theme of searching for love, but none had prepared me for the show at Colchester Arts Centre last night. I should have known it would be something out of the usual, when the flyer said "FAT is the journey of a gay, disabled man in search of his heart's desire. Pete Edwards uses distinctive movement, projected imagery, and spoken text to create a surreal narrative along the banks of the River Thames. Follow his quest to find the fat man, eat some spaghetti and live happily ever after."

The scene is set with an empty performance space, a screen at the back with video images, and a sign language interpreter stage left. The lights go down, there's a pause, and from the shadows appears Pete Edwards, a bald man of about 50, wearing only some very shiny, very short shorts, and a pair of Converse. (I immediately thought of my friend Severine, who wears those shoes.) Oh, and Edwards is in a wheelchair, and he's shuffling himself along, his limbs writhing.

So, what's coming up next I wonder? Will it be some in-your-face diatribe about how he can't use the Tube or get on a bus, because of the step? Oh no, it wasn't disabled specific. It was about isolation, and dreaming, and desire. Themes that touch us all.

As Edwards spoke, his script appeared as sur-text on the screen, above the images of the Thames. The programme explains that Edwards is a drama "workshop facilitator ... for people with differing speech". For the audience the sur-text was essential, as strangers to Edwards' speech could only pick up the odd word. (The sign language person seemed a little superfluous, but maybe I missed the point?)

The play unfolds, as we meet the fat man (only on screen), and they go back to his flat, for spaghetti bolognese and "afters". Now Edwards is completely naked, as we read quotes on screen, from Shakespeare, that are specially relevant to the play character's predicament. Rich fare indeed.

Now I may consider myself a right-on guy, with interest and some personal experience of disability, caring and access issues, and as a follower of gay culture (indeed, some of my friends are heterosexual and able-bodied), but there was much to learn about the HUMAN experience from Edwards' play. A remarkable show.

And for me the most moving images were Pete in front of a projection of a dance club scene, Pete's writhing linked perfectly with the mass of dancing bodies on the dancefloor. Just for a moment we can escape from ourselves.


  1. Sounds like quite a show...

  2. From Andrew Stanley Budd's Facebook comment:
    ... went to an astonishing show at the Arts Centre last night, about the journey of a gay disabled man in search of his heart's desire. Here's my take on it.....
    "JO COLDWELL commented on your link.
    JO wrote "Great read. Thanks for sharing Andrew"

  3. hi Andrew, I wanted to be there but couldnt. And I really like your write up. There's just this one thing that touches a nerve with me, even though I understand your point, and fair enough...

    this bit
    "So, what's coming up next I wonder? Will it be some in-your-face diatribe about how he can't use the Tube or get on a bus, because of the step? Oh no, it wasn't disabled specific. It was about isolation, and dreaming, and desire. Themes that touch us all".

    It just leaves me thinking.. if it was disabled-specific would it matter? Why would it? And why is it so easy, inevitable almost, that disabled people talking about the realilties of their experience gets characterised in a non-disabled world as 'in-your-face diatribe'? Where to put (legitimate) anger - or even just issues - without being a cliche?!

    Im not laying these things at your door, other than in the sense that something you wrote triggered my questions, and a slight feeling of unease that Im left trying to articulate!

    To be discussed further, over coffee hopefully x

  4. More comments from Facebook:
    Stephen Colin Ball: lol, I saw that but decided the subject matter was perhaps too narrow
    Andrew Stanley Budd: Steve, it was astonishing! You would have loved it.
    Stephen Colin Ball: yeah? oh well, next time (0:
    Jill Ball: An astonishing review too, quite beautiful in the way you conveyed his performance - wow!

  5. I e-mailed Pete Edwards and The FAT people to say how much I enjoyed their show, and they saw this blog. Here's what they said:

    "Wow thank you so much Andrew. If you can believe it, this is Fat's first review! It's great to see you really understood what we were trying to do.
    We will be posting this to our facebook page and will keep you in touch with any future plans. Good luck with your blog"
    Best regards,
    Pete Edwards and Michael Achtman

  6. @Rowena - "avoid cliches like the plague" - I'm guilty as charged! And we probably know the answers to your rhetorical questions.
    To me the show's execution was all about possibilities, looking at overcoming difficulties and how we can communicate, and the way Pete Edwards and Co pulled this off was remarkable.
    I am sure a great show could be put together which was more disabled-specific, and no it wouldn't matter to me. (Can't speak for others - they might have a different attitude)
    Regarding disabled people talking about the realities of their experience, I'm all for 'in-your-face diatribes'. We are diabetics with attitude and shoot up in public places, and if people don't like it they can look the other way, we will not be banished to the toilet!? Regarding "Where to put (legitimate) anger - or even just issues - without being a cliche?!" - that's the skill of the playwright and production.
    You bring up many points; further discussion over coffee would be super.

  7. I meant to comment on this when I read it but, even though I felt it was a great post about an interesting subject, somehow I strugged for anything to say. Now it seems a bit late to say anything other than;

    lovely job well done.......

  8. hi everyone - anthony, director of the arts centre here - i thought the show was outstanding and i know its maybe a cliche to say see the person not the disability but i found myself completely immersed in the story within minutes of the opening, pete's warmth and wit completely engaging form the very start. i loved the very simple technique of giving the projection screen a little wave - mirroring the unfolding narrative and echoing the river thames - lovely touch. a cohesive and thouroughly entertaing piece. thanks to the company and to the people who come to the rats centre to support new work. anthony

  9. The dust has settled a little, but we're still talking about this super show. Thanks to Anthony Roberts for his comment. It was astonishing how quickly the viewer gets over the difference in presentation style, and becomes immersed in the story telling. A super evening I'll always remember.



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