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Chewing the Fat (Edinburgh Fringe)

Selina Thompson's personal tale arrestingly grapples with issues around weight

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Selina Thompson

What do we talk about when we talk about weight? News headlines are stuffed with warnings of an obesity crisis, while those very same pages encourage constant anxiety about the size and shape of our bodies. But Selina Thompson's show, as she explains with a smile at the outset, is not about any of that. At least not explicitly, not in the way the media preaches and bullies.

Instead, this is a show about Thompson and about her fat. It's a label she's cheerfully reclaiming, rejecting dozens of others – curvy, chubby, well-rounded – with sharp pops of the glitter and paint filled balloons that festoon her body. It's an image that perfectly captures the tone of the piece: sparkly, difficult and painful all at once.

Thompson, a warm and engaging presence, digests a lifetime of binge eating and body anxiety over the space of an hour. She tells stories of the times food has dominated her life, punctuated with startling visual metaphors for her overeating. Magazine images of air-brushed beauty are shredded and crammed into doughnuts; sand, glimmering with tiny shards of glitter, is poured liberally onto the stage.

But as much as Thompson wants to create a "world of wonder" for her audience, one with glitter and colour and free snacks, she refuses to shy away from confronting the more challenging aspects of her subject. At times, the show she has created is queasy, unsettling, quietly heartbreaking. Its optimism, meanwhile, is heavily contingent, imagining with difficulty a time when other nourishment might take the place of food.

A lot of this has been discussed before, but never in Thompson's distinct voice. Her combination of frank, straightforward storytelling and arresting images dislocates the subject matter from the heightened and often hysterical media discourse that tends to surround it, allowing us to see it anew. And while there are plenty of things Chewing the Fat proclaims not to be about, it manages to work its mouth around a lot while sharing Thompson's experiences.

Chewing the Fat runs until 13 August at Northern Stage at King's Hall.