HOWEVER YOU LOOK at it, in the face of wokeness and cancel culture, an opening of our collective hearts and the sparkly proliferation of social media memes celebrating those who are different, we still live in a world of bodily imperatives. In order to be considered ‘normal’ you’ve got to comply with certain things, particularly if you are born female. You have to be thin. You’re not allowed to be fat. This is the behemoth that Tasmin Sherman tackles in My Weight and Why I Carry It, which features in the programme of this year’s Hilton Arts Festival.
It’s an extraordinary work, in which Sherman works a script in the first person about a character called ‘Vic’. We don’t know how much of the piece is directly autobiographical, but her body, the central prop of the work, is hers and it is real. Akin to the comic work of professionals of the ilk of big women such as Sarah Mullican, Miranda Hart and Miriam Margolyes, Sherman’s confessional piece takes on her own large body with a self-deprecating forward tilt, which unpacks almost every taboo you can think of, only this is not a comedy.
An essay in bravery that takes the notion of performing an intimate reality to a roomful of strangers up several thousand notches, My Weight and Why I Carry It offers a depth of darkness and narratives developed in a therapeutic context that will swirl in your sensibilities. After all, who is perfect in this world? Who managed to get through schooling without the kicks and pricks of their grubby little peers, for being too big or too small, too ethnic or too intelligent, too poor or too different for the mainstream? If you have to be honest, you didn’t, either. And little prepubescent girls can gang up and exude a level of spite and malice that hurts the most.
But Vic’s tale is not only about being brutalised by the words, hurtful pranks and humiliating ill wishes of her peers. It’s a foray into how she was raised. And it’s a yarn cast around a child subject to so much criticism that she learns to hate herself, but also one premised on the complexity and importance of sibling love, and a big cup of tea, when it really matters. With the use of plastic props that convey the auguries of a swimming party, she imports raw emotions and irreplaceable values into plastic ducks that will leave you speechless with its blatancy as it will make you gasp and snort, tear up and laugh ill-manneredly out loud, even if you are watching this work on your own. And even you’re traditionally too shy to laugh out loud by yourself.
The piece is not polished, but that is its edge. In casting herself around a fictional character, Sherman herself is embraced protectively by her own story and her own layers of storytelling. The work contains her truths inscrutably. She leaves the platform with her audience in tatters. The fear is that with a performer of this level of skill and bravery and a work so close to the bone, she may become a one-production performer. Given her credentials, however, as a woman clearly with many strings to her proverbial bow, all you can really do is bask in the splinteringly real presence of this work, and anticipate more from her theatrical pen.
- My Weight and Why I Carry It is directed by Ingrid Wylde and written and performed by Tasmin Sherman and you can see it in the Drama Centre, Hilton College, as part of the Hilton Arts Festival, on Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 August 2023, at 10am.