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Review: FITTER (Soho Theatre)

Mary Higgins and Ell Potter follow on from their previous work HOTTER

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Mary Higgins and Ell Potter in FITTER
© Holly Revell

Dancing neon suits. Hastily but carefully face-painted beards. Gyrating against exercise balls. Tenderly held hands. Mary Higgins and Ell Potter's second devised show FITTER (following the success of their Fringe show HOTTER) is a verbatim performance collage about men, masculinity and their relationship with both.

The pair have interviewed just shy of 50 men aged from eight to 102, including cis men, trans men, masculine-presenting people and men of a variety of sexualities. Some of the men are known to the pair, while others are strangers they met in a pub, six pints down. "Would you rather be soft or hard"? is the opening question all the men are asked, before they begin to divulge information about growing up, their sex lives and intimate secrets. Mary and Ell note that some interviews felt more like therapy sessions.

The recordings are used throughout the piece to score Ell and Mary's actions, beginning with a hilarious lip sync of two young brothers fighting during their interview ("I'm EXAMPLING!"). There are moments of comedy gold in these audio clips, particularly when spliced together and highlighted with movement, such as a ballet routine choreographed around the interviewees' talk of douching which is genius. Kylie Minogue's "All the Lovers" plays and you'll definitely hear the lyrics in a different light.

Though FITTER professes to be about the men they interview, the show starts to become about Mary and Ell's own relationships towards men as it progresses. There's plenty of mocking about cis men particularly, and the emotional labour the duo went through talking to them ("a moment of silence, please"); it's all in jest, but with an edge.

There's a final section in which the pair open a "box of trauma" and read from pieces of paper tacked inside the lid. They each tell stories that have shaped their attitudes towards men, and how these interviews have helped them look at things differently. It is a tense 15 or so minutes, contrasting with the easy comedy seen mere moments ago. Mary gently takes Ell's hand and a few audience members do the same, stunned into silence – the air deflates like the exercise balls. The way in which this potentially triggering scene is handled and made aware to the audience has to be commended and other theatres and companies should take note.

But even with this serious spin on a comedy show, there is no denying that Mary and Ell are fierce, funny performers. Whether they are dancing "like a praying mantis" or singing their hearts out to Lizzo, the pair are extremely likeable and skilled at turning hundreds of hours of interviews into a slick 60 minutes. It may not dive into its research as much as it could, but FITTER is an entertaining look at how men see themselves and how the rest of the world sees them.

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