Review: Fat Alice – Òran Mór, Glasgow

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First published in The Times, Thursday April 2 2015 

Four Stars

Playwright Alison Carr is one of the breakout members of the Traverse 50 – the group of new talents discovered and nurtured by Scotland’s new writing theatre as part of its half-centenary celebrations. Fat Alice may be her first fully realised work, but it’s an impressive calling card, sly and audaciously offbeat, showcased to strong effect in Joe Douglas’s snappy production.

One of the play’s strengths lies in the way it confounds our expectations. We meet a couple, Peter (Richard Conlon), and Moira (Meg Fraser), who are settling down for an evening together, discussing work, the weather and what they’re going to have for their tea (she’s made a salad; he’s more of a steak man). But these banalities have an edge to them: Peter is married with a daughter and has been promising to leave his family for the best part of ten years.

Meg Fraser and Richard Conlon in Fat Alice PIc by Leslie Black

Pic: Leslie Black

As their conversation descends into acrimony, with Moira finally reaching the end of her rope when Peter reveals his wife is pregnant, a crack begins to form across the ceiling and Moira’s grotesquely fat upstairs neighbour starts crashing down into the flat in a shower of dust and plaster.

In different hands this metaphor for the end of a troubled relationship might have seemed (ahem) rather heavy-handed, but Carr sustains the bold premise through the vividness of her writing. The play is entertaining, full of funny one-liners, but it also reflects on questions of identity, body image and self-worth while repeatedly showing how all of these things can become eroded by self-delusion in unhealthy relationships.

Douglas’s direction of the piece, for A Play, a Pie and a Pint in association with Aberdeen Performing Arts and the Traverse, is spare and to the point. In a stripped down production, with a simple set and only intermittent use of sound effects to create the impression of the roof literally falling in on our unhappy couple’s heads, the scenario is brought to life by a pair of precision performances, from Fraser and Conlon. Each is given their share of broad comedy moments and amusing lines. Yet, while Fraser’s exasperated Moira is the one we finally root for, both actors bring depth to their roles, in a play that wears its delight in the absurd like a badge of honour.

Box office: 0141 357 6200, to Apr 4; transferring to TraverseEdinburgh, Apr 7-11  

Edinburgh, Apr 7-11

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