On rare occasions, if you’re lucky, you get to see a theatre performer who changes the way you see the world. So it was when Rachel Stockdale held stage and audience at Live Theatre on Saturday in Fat Chance.
The stage set: comfortable bright red casting sofa, screen on the wall behind, a skinny standard lamp to one side, and to the other a dummy dressed with voluptuous bridal gown all glittery in the lighting.
Into this intimate space stepped one courageous actor: Rachel Stockdale in black bra and black pants. No artifice here, no flutter of false eyelashes, just clear smooth skin, long glossy hair and a lovely face. She introduced herself as fat, surviving, but with a feeling of not-belonging anywhere, and of ‘benefit’ class. There was no confrontation, no self-pity, no narcissism: just an articulate person telling it like it is.
Revealing the unconscious bias on fat
In just one hour the audience shared the vicissitudes of her young life, alternately laughing and feeling sad through the good and bad times growing up on Teesside then looking for work. From age seven she wanted to act. After her story of graduating with BA (Hons) from drama school, then gaining an MA in professional acting the audience was taken through the struggles for audition opportunities with her, and the rejections. “Northern, fat and female; you can only be two of these things, not three”.
“The way people see you, comment on your body, and put you in a pre-conceived box, and then are surprised when they see you out of it”, this all matters to society. In these short 60 minutes Stockdale showed up the institutional fat-phobia for what it is: short-sighted, unfair, and a waste of the nation’s talent and ability.
Theatre as a way to think again
It takes a creative mind to see the possibilities of a bean-pole standard lamp; the position of thin lamp as a talking character of boyfriend seemed to me inspired. Light from under the shade dimmed and rose as he spoke to his girl on stage. As a thin character he was there for contrast, contrasting too with the bridal dress opposite. In her infectious enthusiastic acceptance of a marriage proposal, she chattered and charmed and advised leaving the wedding dress to last in the scheme of preparation planning. These hanging words did not auger well.
The backdrop played its part, and demonstrated with writing on the screen what thorough research lay behind this one-woman theatrical performance. Who knew that it was two health-care workers in 1963 who coined the term ‘morbid obesity’? And then what havoc those words caused.
Edinburgh Fringe next, let’s make it happen
Not one second of my concentration lapsed during the performance. The drama of words was embroidered by clever minimalistic costume change, by elegant and gymnastic kick-boxing, and with song; Stockdale sang with pure, sweet clarity.
The freesheet programme for the audience said: “If we can change how we think about the world, we can change the world.” I left preconceptions behind me on Saturday, and I’m grateful. If you get a chance to go to the Edinburgh Fringe to see Fat Chance, do, you’ll enjoy it.
If you’d like to support challenging fatphobia and encouraging body neutrality and positivity for a wider audience at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, you can make a donation via ‘GoFundMe’ here.