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Whale - Crash Theatre Company (Fringe World 2024)

Reviewed by Kate O'Sullivan


Crash Theatre Company have brought back their successful Fringe World 2023 show, Whale, restaging it in the WA Museum Boola Bardip's Hackett Hall under the infamous blue whale skeleton. It is a retelling of personal stories from the lived experience of the performer, Courtney McManus, and the impact of those experiences and microaggressions over time.

The show is framed through conversations - with a doctor, with a high-school crush, with their mother. These conversations then flash us through other moments where fatphobia has left its mark on Courtney's psyche - the rude child at school, the changing room where nothing fits, and the PE class discussions about diet and exercise. The vignette style is a good one, showing the 'death by a thousand cuts' that can be experienced by someone who doesn't fit into what some aspect of society has decided the box should be. This show does feel like a personal diary, presenting one person's perspective and experiences. The audience all found our own links in the storytelling and found a connection to our own experiences, however, it was hard to know what to do with that feeling other than to sit in sympathy with the performer. Please don't get me wrong - the storytelling is well crafted and exposes many of the topics that are left unsaid and unseen by much of society - but the lack of a bigger justification makes it hard to find exactly what the show seeks to change if anything.

The show takes a hard left turn towards the end, shifting the topic and the energy dramatically. This shift is quite jarring not because the topic covered isn't interesting and well thought out, but because it doesn't necessarily feel like it connects with the rest of the show. The topic of the interrelation between fatness and queerness needed to be melded into the storytelling sooner to allow for the audience to connect the dots here, even if the connections make sense inherently to the performer from their own experience. Seeing self-acceptance and positivity is something we have come to expect from personal narrative-driven theatre, and the show very much ends as we expect, with a nod to the power of love, both of self and of others.

The soundscape adds atmosphere to this show and clearly delineates when we are switching between flashbacks and current conversations. The use of ocean sounds also added a feeling of immensity to the weight of the experiences and how they affected the performer's life. The use of coloured lighting up into the high ceiling also helped with these transitions, giving us a visual clue that we were flashing back and if we were flashing back to somewhere we'd been before. 

Unfortunately, the poignancy and intimacy of the show are somewhat diminished by the venue itself. Hackett Hall is a very tall, cavernous space that makes the stage and thus the performer feel somewhat small in comparison. While the connection to the blue whale skeleton is clear and makes sense, it is a presence that is almost distracting at times, rather than helping with the storytelling. The use of a rounded white lighting wash on the stage helped with the intimacy and pulled us in as best it could, but it does feel like the in-the-round staging of the original season may have been more effective than this more front-on production.

All in all, the show is still moving and thought-provoking. It creates a feeling of belonging and highlights how common some of these feelings and experiences really are. A love letter to the self and the power of self-acceptance.

Courtney McManus - Promo Image supplied.

Reviewer Note: Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company. Kate also has a working relationship with the venue.


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