At first it seems a problem of scale. Standing just over six feet, British actor Mat Fraser has long legs, a lengthy torso, a handsome face with knife-edge cheekbones, and the arms of a much, much smaller man. They end just a few inches beneath his shoulders, terminating in thumbless hands. Like it or not, those abbreviated arms are all you notice during the opening scenes of Richard Willett’s The Flid Show.
Mat Fraser plays Duncan Mowbray, a Flid—British slang for a person born with thalidomide deformities. When not maundering in resentment or self-pity, he works as a nightclub singer delivering soulful if undistinguished renditions of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” or “What Kind of Fool Am I?” In the course of the play, he wins the affections of a klutzy pediatrician and brokers a cautious peace with his condition. It is a testament to Fraser’s acting—though not Willett’s ponderous script—that as the show progresses you do see, increasingly, not the arms but the man.
In many ways, Willett has tailor made the role for an actor like Fraser, but it isn’t a very stylish fit. Willett crams the play so full of love story, music numbers, flashbacks, family melodrama, a Christmas Carol redux, an extensive history of thalidomide, and such wretched lines as “My God, man! Don’t you realize what’s at stake here!” that the niceties of character or plot development suffer. Mowbray begins the play sardonic and prickly and ends it—after a tearful confrontation with his younger self—slightly less so. Fraser’s own life (though devoid of ghostly visions or maternal suicide) has included incarnations as a singer, rock-and-roll drummer, tae kwon do black belt, TV series regular, and writer and performer of the touring show Sealboy: Freak. A résumé like that deserves a much more remarkable alter ego.