Quietly horrifying and laced with bitterly black comedy, Fat Jewels is a moody, miserable study of psychosexual abuse. Set in one room of a grubby council flat, the story centres on troubled lad Pat, whose fear of his own deteriorating mental health leaves him vulnerable to damaged, old-enough-to-be-his-dad family friend Danny.
Robert Walters makes a chillingly believable predator here, running rings around the younger man as he works through his own myriad traumas, methodically seducing his victim with promises of friendship, fried food, and cathartic violence. Hugh Train, meanwhile, is energetic and engaging as Pat, playing the part with well-judged, unforced openness.
Luke Davies directs with the same frank empathy he brought to 2017’s The Chemsex Monologues, creating an atmosphere of creeping awfulness while working hard to unearth the sympathetic strands in Joseph Skelton’s keenly observed but deliberately directionless script. Though the plot develops through jarring peaks and ploddingly slow plateaus, the bleak dialogue is absorbing, ringing true in both naturalistic and darkly lyrical passages. Exploring their deeply repressed needs, the characters linger with queasy sensuality on descriptions of chip grease glittering on skin, of an imagined abuser’s shadow crossing the wall like Nosferatu.
Designed by Andrew Skelton, the set is cluttered with takeaway cartons and lager cans, sleeping bags and a child-sized chair, all scattered against a backdrop of angular puce panels. The effect is simultaneously recognisable and disorienting, hinting at the disordered lives and seething desperation of the play’s disaffected characters.