Friday, July 19

Fat Chance – Theatre503

Rachel Stockdale gives a high-energy performance in this autobiographical and unapologetic confrontation with fatphobia’s entrenchment within modern culture and social attitudes. Consequently, the piece was full of provocations to challenge our prejudices. Clad in a silk robe, Stockdale became “Stocky the boxer”, a clever spin on the rhetoric of ‘fighting’ through weight loss. As she sang and danced and told us of her story, a trio of projector screens acted as windows into Stockdale’s past, displaying the dates during which she worked various jobs and the impact this had on her weight. This was also intercut with statistics to demystify BMI and highlight the great failings of diet culture. Ultimately, the numbers and facts were emphasised by a deep sense of personal indignation. There was a poignant moment in which Stockdale punches and kicks at the plus-size clothes mannequin, raging against the body as a material and all the dense meanings it bears. A distressing scene involving a wedding dress, which she forces her body into, is emblematic of the piece as a whole.

Unfortunately, the atmosphere was at times dampened by certain choices; some were technical, given that the music was too loud over Stockdale’s voice during all of the songs. Crucially, however, the use of props was frequent and often awkward, which gradually hindered the action. The same might also be said for the many costume changes, one of which almost led to a wardrobe malfunction, further slowing the pace.

We charted the development of the love story between Stockdale and her husband, supported by photos on the backdrops, which led into a touching monologue that appreciated love’s ability to traverse body size. However, these speeches were a case of hit and miss: some failed to captivate me for their duration, which I attribute being repetitive of points made earlier in the show. This might well be indicative of what felt like a clunky overarching structure.

There was one highly effective motif, however, and that was the repeated question: “Do u know what I mean?”. I suppose it is a question that functions for all audiences of this show. On one hand, if you do know what Stockdale means, you are able to empathise with her stories which shed light on society’s cruel treatment of fat people. On the other hand, if you can’t empathise, you are now offered an insight into the lived experience of actor who is “fat, northern and a woman”. As Stockdale was once told that as an actor “you can only be two of those things”, she invites us towards a collective recognition of the intersections of identities and how these function in tandem. Notably, she also recognises her white and cisgender privilege in her closing monologue, which is indicative of contemporary theatre’s growing awareness of political voice and who speaks for who.

One of the most enjoyable moments of the show came at its end, when Stockdale hands out copies of her (mock) CV full of spectacular (false) titles and abilities, stating that she is actively looking for work as an actor. This was an unexpected comic surprise that closed a show that, on the whole, leaned towards melancholy rather than fun.

Fat Chance is playing at the Theatre503 until 20th March, details for booking can be found here:

Reviewer: Eleanor Hall

Reviewed: 19th March 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.