Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Martin Bonger: Fat Man

By | Published on Thursday 29 January 2015

As you artsy Londoners may be aware, the Vault Festival started this week, so you can all look forward to a full six weeks worth of its alternative, fringey delights. It’s a truly diverse and enticing programme of events, and one of the shows that caught my eye was ‘Fat Man’, a modern take on the story of Orpheus.

The show, from producing company Move To Stand, has been written by Martin Bonger, who also performs the play. I spoke to him to find out more about this tragicomic piece.

CM: This play is based on the story of ancient Greek mythology star Orpheus, isn’t it? Can you tell us a little about Orpheus, and why you thought he would be a good basis for this piece?
MB: My version of Orpheus sees a faded rock star stuck in the past, obsessing about the moment he lost the love of his life. I wanted to pick up the myth at the point everything has already gone wrong; I’m interested in telling a story of failure on a big scale – the burden of regret. The image of Orpheus as a man eating his grief and full of shame was a clear starting point for the show.

CM: You’ve updated him, and in your show, he’s become a stand up comedian. How did you come up with this idea, and why do you think it works?
MB: The world of stand-up oddly felt like a great fit for this tragic story. There’s a thin line between the potential control a comic has over an audience and his or her risk of being humiliated by their judgement, and the idea that this is where they can live or die feels immediate and dramatic, just as the myth itself is. In this retelling Orpheus’ audience are all gods so the stakes get even higher..

CM: What format does the show take? Does it have a narrative, or is more like a stand up performance?
MB: The show takes a narrative form in that it follows a character telling his story, but the set up is very much that live space of a performer who is responsive to what is happening between him and his audience. The stand up element provides the momentum and shape to the storytelling.

CM: What themes does the play address?
MB: It’s a show about death and grief, but ultimately acceptance too. It’s about the burden of regret and how we can hold onto it or let it go.

CM: How easy is it to balance the comedy with the bitterness?
MB: The show deals in the bittersweet way a comic can put grief out there to be laughed at whilst also searching for a kind of catharsis. It plays with those familiar human details of a person’s story which are unexpected and can throw you off balance, laughing at things you know but maybe never noticed.

CM: As well as having written the play, you’re also performing it. Does the fact that you are the writer make for a different sort of dynamic with your director?
MB: Alex Swift is a director who is an amazing facilitator – able to draw out ideas that can feel hidden – so sometimes we’ve had times where I’ve been lost with an element of text and he brings new insight or angles to what’s being looked at. His influence on the work and the shaping of material has felt essential to the process.

CM: The show is appearing as part of the Vault festival. Do you have plans for it after that?
MB: Yes! The show will be touring after Vault festival – heading as far north as Newcastle and down to Brighton – most shows will be one off gigs but we are doing a two week run at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol from the 17-28th March.

CM: Do you have any other new stuff in the pipeline?
MB: I’ve got the seeds of a new show taking shape – and planning to start work on that in Autumn this year – another dark tale, this time about medicine myths in the time of the Black Death…

‘Fat Man’ is on as part of the Vault Festival, until 15 Feb. See this page for more info and to book

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