By Carly Fisher
As theatre becomes increasingly unashamed to speak about issues that are still considered taboo – abortion, asylum, equality, euthanasia, etc – rarely still do we see shows willing to discuss one of the most ‘thought about but not talked about’ topics front and centre – weight. Alana Valentine’s latest play, Made to Measure, now playing at the Seymour Centre’s Reginald Theatre, puts the issue of body weight on the table and forces us to really realize the misconceptions, the perceptions, the prejudices and the pain that surround this topic both in relation to our own opinion of ourselves and of others.
To an extent, it is refreshing to see a show that finally doesn’t skirt around the topic of body weight and in the capable hands of the very talented cast of three, weight is spoken about intelligently, fairly and emotionally without too much hyperbole. The perceptions that the characters have of themselves or of each other seem realistic and whilst I’d love to think that they are exaggerated, unfortunately much of the world does face these demons and it is important that they are given the accurate representation that they receive.
As bride-to-be Ashleigh, Megan Wilding is, again, fantastic, reminding Sydney of the amazing young talent that we have been lucky to see grace many of our stages. Wilding delivers the lines so naturally that the otherwise dense dialogue seems to roll off her tongue giving the piece the flow it definitely needs. There is an authenticity to her performance that she generously shares with the audience – whether or not any of these are experiences or thoughts she has shared with her character matter very little because of the realism with which she plays Ashleigh. We all know, or are, an Ashleigh – a resilient but self-critical woman with a chip on the shoulder but a looming fear within even so.
As the couture wedding dress designer that Ashleigh commissions to make her dress, Monica, Tracy Mann is superb. Being the first time that I have seen her perform, I was mesmerised again by her naturalism, her comfortability with the complex dialogue, her genuine engagement with the audience (she had us hooked even when rambling on as her character does) and her overall aura throughout the performance. I am a converted fan waiting to see where Mann is next performing to ensure I am there!
Once you pass the bare hallways of the Reginald’s entrance, you are greeted by a most STUNNING set – it is soft and feminine, yet boldly constructed and superbly designed by Melanie Liertz. The silhouettes of dresses behind a soft, flowing white curtain obviously work to establish the environment but, more importantly, are instantly a talking point prior to the show beginning. Supported by mostly strong lighting choices by lighting designer, Verity Hampson, (a few scenes in the middle seemed over produced in terms of lighting for an otherwise realistic piece) the set truly soared and acted as an elegant and practical backdrop throughout.
Composer and sound designer, David Bergman, has given a soundscape to the show that is at once eerie and yet calming, with a perfect balance of sounds, music and silence achieved throughout. Bergman is definitely one to watch!
In true Alana Valentine fashion, this show is very well researched and you can tell the work that has gone into trying to get so many opinions and experiences into one play expressed through two major and one minor character. For the most part, Valentine has effectively achieved her mission and the show accurately and honestly reflects the experience of body image concerns, particularly within anything relating to the fashion industry fairly.
In my opinion, scenes within the middle of the show lose their sense of audience and aim to highlight every opinion, rather than sticking to the main characters. To this end, irrespective of his very likeable persona on stage and noticeable talent, particularly in his final character (no spoilers here), Sam O’Sullivan largely played roles that felt not only redundant but static within the flow of the show. In these scenes, particularly his first appearance as a hospitality worker, the script became preachy in its content – wanting us to know more facts about obesity than to continue the important discussion that the play otherwise naturally encourages. Good theatre, to me, does not need to tell because of how strongly it shows. Seeing Ashleigh suffer at the captivity of her own mind (without the physical representation of the voice inside her head or of big business food sales) would have been more than effective and emotive enough, probably more so than this additional character.
When the sense of audience was clear, the show excelled and the scenes between Wilding and Mann were wonderful. The two played off each other’s energies so beautifully – a real masterclass for anyone heading into a duologue performance.
So now the challenge must be to get that audience into the theatre. There was a disappointingly low turnout and I cannot help but credit this to people’s fear of or disinterest in talking about the experiences of obesity. I urge you though to challenge yourself and engage with this show – you’re in for a treat!
From the announcement of Seymour’s program, this was the show that stood out to me as the one to see and I am very glad that I did. More than anything, I am glad we are talking about body image and weight in a show so well-crafted and then executed to an even higher standard.
Photo Credit: Lisa Tomasetti
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.