“I’m fat,” declares Rachel Stockdale, in a disarmingly matter-of-fact manner. She is not attempting to solicit pity. She is not trying to stage a fightback against political correctness. She just wants to call a spade a spade, and she does not care for alternative terminology – big boned, horizontally challenged, plus size, and so on – none have any place in her world. There’s no point denying the truth. Apples grow on trees, two plus two is four, and Rachel is fat. That’s just the way it is, get on with it.
If only it were that simple. She’s chosen to be an actor, and in case anybody hadn’t noticed, there isn’t exactly an abundance of roles for the larger woman. She’s also northern, and was once told that she was never going to make it in the entertainment industry being a) northern, b) fat and c) female – she might have opportunities if she were two out of the three. It was a most unsubtle way of saying she needed to lose weight if she wanted to land any roles at all, ever. Sure enough, when she updated her Spotlight profile to include that she was size 18, audition opportunities dried up completely.
Even the Eldon Square Shopping Centre in Newcastle upon Tyne rejected her after she put herself forward for a seasonal role. The frustration is palpable as she makes an effort to shed some pounds, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference to casting directors that she is physically fit and active. The singing and dancing on display in this production are delightful, and while it’s easy to say of theatre production companies, “It’s their loss” for rejecting Rachel and her talents, it’s evident that there aren’t the roles out there for her to perform.
So what to do? I think of the late American playwright August Wilson (1945-2005), who wrote extensively about the African-American experience, and said that roles need to be written for black actors to play in the first place. That concept has its implications for any under-represented group – there aren’t that many roles for older women, for instance. As for fat women, Rachel has indeed applied that principle, and come up with this very play.
Her boyfriend, whom she calls Smelly (presumably not what it says on his birth certificate) is portrayed by way of a voiceover and – wait for it – a stick-thin lamp, a further source of humour in a show that tries to highlight some pertinent issues through laughter. It’s not all fun and games: a moment in which a member of the production team is asked to assist Rachel in getting into an overly tight wedding dress is a metaphor for needing assistance to overcome obstacles that stand between her and a future in performing arts. This is an engaging and entertaining show that is so triggering and relatable that sobbing could be heard from members of the audience.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Until 28th August 2022
Pleasance Dome (Jack Dome), 10:30am (1 hour)
Suitable for ages 16 and above
Meet Rachel – a Northern, 20-something actress whose funny, celebratory and politically powerful one-woman play explores her true-life experience of weight gain from size 8 to 18. From audition nerves and throwaway comments to literally breaking a leg, this play is for:
Anyone who’s ever put on or lost weight
Anyone who had free school meals
Anyone who’s tried to have it all.