Alana Valentine’s new play is a thought-provoking exploration of fatphobia with a snappy, moving script.
Megan Wilding and Tracy Mann. Image: Lisa Tomasetti.
In the western world, losing weight has become a constant, all-consuming ideal. Weight loss is seen as a triumphant act of self-transformation that will not only make one healthier but also help solve all our problems, from fatigue and career worries to self-esteem and relationship woes – supposedly.
Alana Valentine’s new play is a challenging and thought-provoking exploration of these issues. The protagonist is preparing for her wedding, a time which heightens exposure and sensitivity to fatphobic and body-shaming comments (though this could also apply to, for example, dancers, models, and athletes).
For bride-to-be Ashleigh (Megan Wilding – recently seen in A Little Piece of Ash), walking into a bridal store has become a horrendous nightmare. She has been rejected by countless others and subjected to barrages of ill-considered fat jokes and comments. Eventually though, Ashleigh discovers and commissions couture designer Monica (Tracy Mann) to make the wedding dress of her dreams. She is reassured by Monica’s promises that the process will indeed celebrate her, but her outward confidence masks internal conflict and doubt. And Monica regales her with well-meaning stories of other large clients who have lost weight before their weddings. As the big day approaches, both client and couturier are forced to face the complicated relationship they have with each other, body shape and social prejudice.
Read: Review: A Little Piece of Ash, Kings Cross Theatre
Directed by Timothy Jones, Valentine’s snappy and sometimes very moving script is unflinching, yet filled with both light and dark humour. The set by Melanie Liertz is delicate and exquisite – a cool white bridal salon with a mannequin front and centre, a change room, and silhouettes of mannequins at the back.
Valentine talked to many plus-sized women while writing the play and exposes the fatphobia and sizeism they experience daily. A lot of the venom and contempt is exemplified by Sam O’Sullivan, who portrays both Ashleigh’s inner demons and – far more charmingly – her fiancé. The inner demon represents all those who seek to control and depersonalise her: health and wellness industry ambassadors, PR people, medical teams, and total strangers.
The small cast is terrific: Wilding is magnificent as Ashleigh, giving a finely nuanced multi-faceted performance. As slim, elegant, and somewhat garrulous Monica, Mann is tremendous. O’Sullivan is slimy yet tempting as Ashleigh’s inner demons (signalled like a panto villain with green lighting in early scenes), and engaging as Ashleigh’s fiancé.
The play celebrates large women with grace and dignity but also highlights health issues they can struggle with. Commissioned by the Charles Perkins Centre – a Sydney medical research institute focused on diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity – the play references the physiology and psychology of eating disorders and breathing problems, among other issues. It’s an inspiring, challenging work that raises important issues.
4 stars out of 5 ★★★★
Made to Measure
Writer: Alana Valentine
Director: Timothy Jones
Designer: Melanie Liertz
Lighting Designer: Verity Hampson
Composer and Sound Designer: David Bergman
Design Assistant: Briana Patrice Russell
Cast: Tracy Mann, Megan Wilding and Sam O’Sullivan
17 May-1 June 2019
Seymour Centre, NSW