Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Confronting, moving and brilliantly entertaining blend of dance, theatre, confessional storytelling and polemic against fatphobia in its many forms. Raw, authentic performances that hold a mirror up to the audience’s prejudices. Theatre as rebellion.
Prejudice against fat people and unapologetic criticism of the obese has become acceptable to many people. Artist Scottee has devised this show with Lea Anderson and his cast of four other fat blokes, who answered his “call for fatties”, and who mostly have never performed before. The show is an emotional roller coaster. Scottee announces early on that the show constitutes fat rebellion, something that he says is long overdue. It is peppered with dances involving the cast of five men who are fat to differing degrees.
The night I saw it, Scottee announced that they had suffered three injuries in the previous 24 hours and had had to re-choreograph much of the show. One of the five, Gez, danced with a strapped up knee and often with crutches, but had we not known about the injuries, one would have been hard pressed to spot anything other than meticulously executed dance routines, some with split second timing worthy of a synchronised swimming troupe. Between the dances, each of the cast delivers a confessional personal story about their experiences as a fat bloke. Each dance and story focuses on a different common negative experience for fat people such as playground bullying, physical attack, thin superiority and eating in public. The solo stories are moving, authentic and sometimes raw with emotion. Asad had to wipe away tears mid-story as he recounted his father not speaking to him because of shame of about his fatness and sexuality. The cheers from the audience as he told us he had finally married his fat husband were genuine, loving and admiring. From a fluorescent lit archway, Scottee punctuates the show with monologues, speeches and diatribes against middle class fat-haters and a fatphobic society.
The show opens with a dance routine by one of the fat blokes, which provokes laughter from many in the audience. I won’t describe what happens next but Scottee is an absolute master at confronting middle and upper class audiences with their prejudices, hypocrisies and guilty secrets, and making them squirm in their seats with guilt and recognition. He does this too in his excellent show Class. But what makes his work breathtakingly original is the way he can switch the hatred and loathing of the ideas which some of his audience hold, in a few seconds, into catalysing a warm and loving response from the very same recently vilified punters who feel relief at the apparent understanding for their human frailties. He and his cast are not forgiving the fatphobes in the audience, they are telling them to stop. By the cast displaying their dignity, their insecurities and proudly flaunting their bodies, our knee jerk, long-conditioned rejection of fat people as equal, worthy of celebration and possessors of self esteem, attractiveness and pride is swept away, turning a largely middle class audience into fat-lovers central. This is a remarkable achievement in a fatphobic society and is delivered with camp, humour, anger, passion, sweat, breathlessness and an infectiously energetic pride that could fundamentally change views of fatsos.
Scottee and his team are also masters of symbolism. From the back wall of the stage being built out of fridges and packing boxes (in their 15 minute Fringe set up time!), to a dance where the cast have their heads covered to reflect the headless fat torsos so often paraded for disapproval in the media, to Scottee re-dressing his colleagues, uncovering their heads and giving them back their dignity, to the group hug that in a few seconds captures the universality of needing to belong to a tribe, the show is a physical, verbal and visual symbolic assault that challenges and energises.
Scottee, Gez, John, Sam and Asad have a remarkable theatrical achievement on their hands, one that will stay with audiences for a long time after leaving the theatre, challenging them to laugh at or to criticise fat people again, now they have loved, celebrated and admired the dancing fat blokes who paraded themselves and their struggles with dignity, anger and camp humour. Gez has had a transformation in recent years after feeling shame about his body. “I feel good about myself now. I’d definitely shag me.” Seeing the infectious pride in the five fat blokes unashamedly dancing in only their underpants at the close of the show, I suspect Gez was now not the only one in the theatre that would shag them. Not a bad achievement for 60 minutes of theatre to an audience that will have had a high percentage of fatphobes.
Remarkable stuff that few pieces of theatre achieve.