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Review: Whale at the Emerging Artist Sharehouse - Sydney Fringe

Review by Laura Heuston

“Their beauty is in the simplicity of their existence.”

Courtney McManus is often compared to Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy. After all she’s a woman, she’s Australian, and she’s funny. Of course, so is Margot Robbie. But for some reason, Courtney is never compared to Stereotypical Barbie. Whyever could this be? Maybe, because people are not talking about gender, heritage and humour when they make this comparison? Could it be, that people are in fact just attempting to veil the fact that they just want to comment on Courtney’s weight? I used the word “attempting” because, yes, this is obviously the intention. And the veil is even thinner than Margot.

Whale is a blistering critique of fatphobia, diet culture, clothes sizing, medical ignorance, and projected generational norms of how women should look and be. But have no fear- it is also a story of self-love, queer victory, and the brilliance of discovering beauty in the unconventional. Using a series of flash forwards and backs, Courtney takes us on a journey from her childhood into the year 2023. It’s a story of everyday heartbreak that will have you giggling one second and growling the next, especially if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of comments like the ones she depicts. And trust me, there is some deeply relatable content here, no matter your size.

Every woman has been subject to the nightmare that is women’s clothes sizing. You’re a medium in one store, an extra large in the next. What looks stunning on the mannequin looks twisted on you… and on closer inspection, it appears the mannequin is not only wearing the smallest size, but it has been clipped in the back! So this incredibly busty doll is smaller in the waist than an extra small, and we’re expected to believe not only that women look like this, but that they would be able to walk around without keeling over from those proportions. But I digress. This experience is far more extreme for big girls. It’s not a matter of sizes being radically different (which can be demoralising enough). No, these women are treated as if they simply do not exist. Or worse, should not. If these stores do deign to provide plus size options they are sequestered at the back of the store and extremely limited, as if women who need these sizes ought to be hidden away. Courtney takes us through this everyday brutalisation with a smarting wit that captures the pain and frustration of people treated as less than because their weight is considered to be more than. She, rightly and fairly, acknowledges that in the 2020s some stores have made the “effort” of doing away with the plus size section, but regrettably, this does not undo the damage that has been inflicted on women and children by these absurdly unrealistic standards of “acceptable” appearance.

But this is not a sad story. Despite my almost overwhelming urge to physically attack the speaker from which the fatphobic comments emerge, I am glad that I did not do battle with a giant black box. Not only because I would have surely lost, but I would have robbed us all of a conclusion full of hope and love. In our post COVID world, where TikTok reigns supreme, our cries for representation have never been closer to being realised. And Courtney has been reflected back at herself on social media, and has come to realise that not only are her queerness and fatness intertwined, but they are both glorious. You will leave the theatre walking on air, elated by the joy and promise that this comedy embodies. Just like Courtney.

Everyone should see this show. Don’t punch the speaker.

Image Supplied


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