As part of Lassfest at award-winning Manchester pub, the Lass O’Gowrie, they have been having a tribute to the work on Jack Rosenthal in support of Myeloma UK. Last week they dramatised episodes of Coronation Street from 1968. This week, they’re tackling a long lost ‘Play for Today’ from 1974 called Hot Fat.
Play for Today was a strand of single drama running on the BBC, at primetime, from 1970 to 1984. Some of it’s best remembered writers were famous before, and after in their own right, writers such as Dennis Potter (Blue Remembered Hills, Brimstone and Treacle), Mike Leigh (Abilgail’s Party) and indeed, Jack Rosenthal, contributed a variety of different scripts. Play for Today allowed for experimentation, and development of up and coming directors and writers whilst also allowing space for established writers to try out new things.
Bringing theatre to television, many of Play for Today’s output has unfortunately been wiped – Hot Fat’s master tapes have been long since wiped making this a unique opportunity to catch this comedy-drama. Set in a men’s sauna and massage parlour, and with a cast of just five, it tells the story of friendships and deals made and broken over the course of one afternoon.
I’m not going to describe the plot too much – to do so would give away the twists and turns a little too much, but suffice to say that the script is packed with witty little moments – moments that fly past so fast and so frequent, you may chance yourself smirking at something that happened a few moments previously. The characters run with the story – not much necessarily happens, but their relationships with each other are captivating enough to more than hold your attention as events collapse, layer by layer.
The cast are all excellent in their roles, Sean Mason perfectly pitching the bumbling Tort, Wayne Alsopp as the frequently exasperated Mr. Holland, Phil Dennison giving a extraordinarily enigmatic turn as and Mr. Pate, Emma Laidlaw as Mrs. Lane frantically trying to hold the sauna together and Rachael McGuinness as the dreamy Sharon. Tightly directed by David Macreedy, and putting the audience in the thick of the action (something the Lass is capitalising on recently..!) with the set design nicely making you feel like you are in the claustrophobic heat of the sauna.
Critics look back on Play for Today as a ‘golden age’ for television – it can be no doubt that there aren’t dramas made like Hot Fat nowadays – character driven rather than plot-driven, it remains a fine example of what was typical television output for BBC. Regretfully, it is more the politically or socially aware plays that are remembered than gems like this. Both myself and a friend who went to see the play came out wanting more. The revived Hot Fat definitely stands as an example of why Britain was producing the best entertainment through the sixties and seventies.
Hot Fat can be seen from Wednesday 18 January to Friday 20 January at the Lass O’Gowrie. Tickets available from www.lassfest.co.uk or on the door if not sold out. Performances are in support of Myemola UK.