views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Fats and Tanya
Etcetera Theatre
22nd August 2015


Louise Devlin and Rekha John-Cheriyan as Tanya and Fats

Photography provided by the salon:collective

When Tanya (Louise Devlin) moves into a women's refuge, she can't stand it. The other ladies irritate her, the therapy sessions are irrelevant, there are far too many seagulls squawking in the morning and it's so depressing she's even sent her son away. Why make him live in this hellhole too? Tanya is angry at everyone and everything, but rather more placid care worker Fatima (Rekha John-Cheriyan) is determined to help the other woman find some kind of peace, even if the only thing Tanya is determined to find is a way of hiding all her contraband and flouting all the shelter's rules.

Lucy Gallagher's writing covers some very difficult topics. After all, at its core are themes of domestic violence and you don't need much imagination to realise the dark places that can and does in fact here lead to. However for me, Fats and Tanya is primarily about an unlikely friendship, and how one can be forged in the most extreme and unusual of situations. The contrast between the two women is made clear from the very beginning by Phoebe Barran's thoughtful direction. Fatima is calmer, more serene, clutching a child's toy and telling a soothing fairytale. As for Tanya, she's raging at the world, and reacting by shouting, screaming and generally doing her best to push everyone away. Fatima has worked at the refuge for long enough to know it's only a defence mechanism, however what she doesn't expect is how that her peseverence develops into a two-way relationship. It's not just about one professional trying to help someone in need, this is the story of how two broken people help each other finally start to heal.

For a play with so much violence, there's a lot of comedy too. When a hilarious moment receives a collective laugh tinged with definite sniffling, you just know Barran has got the pacing just right. We reflect on the tragedy, sometimes we do even shed a tear or two (this year's Camden Fringe really is doing my hard-nosed reputation no favours) and then before we get too maudlin, Fats and Tanya have us giggling again. Whilst there's a concerted attempt by Gallagher and Barran to make sure the mood keeps shifting, it still feels very natural. The blossoming friendship between the two protagonists feels real, rather than a mere plot device.

As Tanya turns up the volume of Turn Around and really goes for it, Fatima claps along uncertainly and spins on the spot with no rhythm whatsoever. And yet, she looks happy in that moment, not because she'll ever not embarrass herself on the dance floor, but because she's made a genuine connection with Tanya, and they're both enjoying each other's company. Her reference to children's cartoons is delivered with conviction, if totally misplaced, and again, it's just so heartwarming, because we can sense the two women bonding in front of us. Tanya isn't judging the other woman for not being a carbon copy of herself, she's accepting her for trying so hard to find some common ground. John-Cheriyan and Devlin play beautifully against each other, completing each other's performance.

If you're looking kinda down to me, you probably missed out on Fats and Tanya at the Camden Fringe. Hopefully the salon:collective will listen to what I say and stage another longer run. This is a deeply moving tale which deserves to find plenty more audiences and be heard many more times.

Fats and Tanya ran from 20th to 23rd August 2015 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

Follow us on Twitter

Leicester Square







performing arts