The Most Massive Woman Wins

by Madeleine George
Mitchell Productions Inc. & Chopt Logic Productions
M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2018: Let's Walk
(organised and curated by TNS)
Esplanade Annexe Studio, Singapore

Body image is a particularly thorny issue for women, linking directly to feelings of self-worth and empowerment. Yet, body shaming remains prevalent, with society being conditioned from a young age to subscribe to idealized notions of beauty. This dark comedy by American playwright Madeline George, presented as part of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, tackles the topic with aplomb.

Four women (Tina Mitchell, Rachael Kirkham, Lisa Lanzi and Tamara Lee) sit in the waiting room of a liposuction clinic. As they await their procedures, they share anecdotes from their life, experiences that have slowly chipped away at their identity and led them to seek surgical help to achieve a perfect body. One character tells us about a liposuction pamphlet deliberately left on the counter by her boyfriend. Another recounts a chronic episode of bulimia where she devoured an entire wedding cake and threw it up. A third describes how she was discouraged from doing a thesis on eating disorders because it would hit too close to home. 

Photo Credit: Derek Tickner

The breezy, confessional style reminds one of that other famous play about the female experience - The Vagina Monologues - although there appears to be less diversity to the group as a whole. The characters presented are generally smart, successful and middle-class. A slightly different perspective could have been illuminating.

Australian director Jenn Havelberg is alive to the light tone of the text which is peppered with catchy nursery rhymes. She keeps the action punchy by switching back and forth between each monologue. Original songs by Kirkham, including a cheeky riff on racial stereotypes, keep things from getting too depressing. The actors inhabit their roles with gusto, taking care not to draw too much attention to themselves and letting the words shine.

The most notable aspect of Havelberg's staging is setting the action in a mud-pit. A lot of this play is about the grime that exists in society and, perhaps more crucially, the filth that we heap upon ourselves for not living up to a certain ideal. This takes on a literal slant by having the actors perform in mud, getting increasingly dirtier as the play progress.

Photo Credit: Derek Tickner

The pit also functions as an exploitative arena that makes each woman vulnerable to attack. The actors employ stylized movements, occasionally wrestling with each other and echoing the sentiments of each monologue with specific gestures. The physical theatre elements prove an apt metaphor for the forces of society which pull and claw at these individuals.

Massive Woman emerges particularly topical in light of recent high-profile sex scandals that have rocked the entertainment industry and the #metoo campaign on sexual assault and harassment. It reminds us that those who shame and belittle others because of their body size should be called out. True to the festival's theme, the production is a triumph for raw, unbridled individuality and not bowing down to societal expectations.

The Crystalwords score: 3/5


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