Becoming Hattie, Leicester Square Theatre - Review

Blessed with a female writer, director and performer (Mhairi Grealis, Mary Swan and Ashley Christmas respectively), Becoming Hattie has its finger on the pulse of how women feel about their body image. In this one-woman show, parallels are drawn between the two women that Christmas plays: Hattie Jacques – a famous comedic actor from the 1950-80s who she greatly admires, and 'Jo' – a struggling actress who only gets cast for small parts such as cleaners and other members of society's underclass.

First coming across Jacques in the early 1970s, Jo immediately identifies with her and the first half of the show is to some degree filled with nostalgia – for the idiosyncrasies of the era and the importance of Jacques to an overweight girl who dreams of going into showbusiness. Channelling Jacques' timber and mannerisms, Christmas as Hattie evokes the star of yesteryear as she chats amd mingles with the audience.

Eventually Jo's patience and resolve seems to bear her out as she's offered a potentially life-changing role in a Shakespearean production. This experience does prove life-changing, but her epiphany doesn't so much make her happier as wiser: no matter how talented the woman, a larger woman is paradoxically invisible and undervalued.

The second half of the show shifts in tone, as details of Jacques unhappy life are show – stuff that Jo wouldn't have known as a young girl ­–  and most importantly, a personal anecdote from Christmas herself about a note given to her by a stranger, that disparaged her weight and whole general existence. Everyone at this juncture was upset by this revelation, which gave permission for Christmas to really be honest about how she felt. I admit while I found the continual jokes about Jo's agent and 'Aslan' wearing thin, in contrast the personal anecdote really brought home without the 'sugar coating' the maliciousness of people's words and actions – even though today we're supposed to be more politically correct and sensitive to people.

Prejudice against obesity existed decades ago, but in today's world, impossible standards for 'perfection' render most people falling short of the media's 'accepted' standard of beauty – 'fat-shaming' being a standard practice in women's magazines. We can count our small mercies that 50 years on from Jacques' heyday, that with shows like Becoming Hattie we can at least raise such issues and that the powers-that-be can be brought to accountability.

© Michael Davis 2016

Becoming Hattie runs at the Leicester Square Theatre until 28th May 2016.


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