Fat chance

Plus-sized actors and theatres rattling the begging bowl


This article is taken from the May 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

While slow off the blocks, the obese (“plus-size performers”) belatedly attempt to make hay in these enlightened times by claiming prejudice forces them to play jolly/tragic fat folk, rather than romantic lead roles. 

Equity, no less, has now deemed “fatphobia one of the last taboos to be dealt with by our industry”. How very exciting, in one’s later professional years, to finally find a persecuted theatrical minority I can technically be part of! 

The Royal Shakespeare Company has the begging bowl out

Championing what they charmingly call “unapologetic northern voices”, folk up at York Theatre Royal eagerly highlight the unfortunate behaviour of one audience member who demanded a refund after hearing Shakespeare performed in Yorkshire accents.

Such snobbery of course has no place in the modern theatrical world. Providing these productions are kept within the borders of Yorkshire and remain a safe distance away from the rest of us, I see no valid reason for objection.

After testing the patience of many admirers with his creaking Hamlet at Windsor only last summer, that old show pony McKellen insists on reprising his portrayal of the young Danish prince in Edinburgh this August. While Ian enjoys levels of artistic goodwill reserved only for the very privileged few, hasn’t this unlikely Hamlet already delighted us long enough? 

Following that big awards ceremony controversy, I strongly supported calls for the most undeserving winner to be disqualified for such appalling public behaviour. Quite what possessed organisers of the BBC Audio Drama Awards to give troublemaker Miriam Margolyes a “Lifetime Achievement” prize still beggars belief.

Having reached that decrepit time of life when one’s acting contemporaries are dropping like flies, I recently found myself dutifully attending three funerals in one week.

Following a quick sharpener across the road prior to the final Friday gathering, I was soon sharing the indignation of many present when it emerged Anthony Andrews wouldn’t be arriving in time to offer a few words of tribute to the deceased, having woefully misjudged the traffic.

Knowing this shabby situation had to be rescued quickly, I duly offered my own less “starry” services to the anxious widow in question, privately confident an entertaining anecdote dating back to our brief time on the set of Tales of the Unexpected would more than suffice.

While it should again be stressed I’ve attended an awful lot of these events of late, may I apologise to all concerned for failing to realise in time that my effusive tribute mistakenly related to a different dead actor altogether.

Congratulations to Kenneth Branagh on finally landing the first Oscar, having been an all too regular bridesmaid at such events for decades. 

Some of us shall never forget the difficult spectacle of dearest Ken — nakedly ambitious at the best of times in his youth — attempting to grin and bear then-wife Emma Thompson’s early Oscars success 30 years ago.

Chelsea buns and bans

Sad to see Chelsea Arts Club the subject of unwanted headlines, after it recently emerged an inebriated woman had chucked a “stale bread roll” at Joan Collins.

While dear Joan can’t help rabbiting on to the press about the sorry affair (naturally, she’s since over-egged matters by comparing her fate to Mr Rock’s at the Oscars), staff at this esteemed establishment have been adept at drawing a veil over the occasional fracas for decades. 

The beaming vampire Brandreth is now back on his travels

My own regrettable clash with a provocative Charles Dance circa 1995 — alas, more than a bread roll was thrown — was handled with trademark skill and decorum by the club’s employees at the time. Would it now be too much to hope that one’s own “life ban”, dating back to the said long-ago incident, is finally rescinded? Unlike Joan, this loyal former member would never dream of ungratefully describing your bread rolls as “stale”.

Bog off biggins

Since when did that shameless pudding Biggins start getting away with masquerading on television as an authority on royal affairs?

She was recently on the airwaves brazenly suggesting insider knowledge of Her Majesty’s frailty. With the role of “royal commentator” having already attracted its fair share of charlatans down the years, surely better for all concerned when this Dame’s packed off for her next panto season in Darlington. 

The Royal Shakespeare Company has the begging bowl out as it attempts to recover from the Covid years and repay a whopping government loan. 

“Increase your support … you can help even more,” punters are anxiously told. Thank goodness the RSC hierarchy succumbed to that howling mob, just months before the plague struck, publicly turning their backs on barrels of unfashionably useful cash from a British oil giant. 

I trust the very vocal minority who forced this courageously ill-timed decision are now donating regularly and generously to the RSC’s crisis-hit coffers?

Fresh from the humiliating retreat that followed his sniping at the expense of Depp, McKellen, Caine and co in the recent memoir (now all a terrible mistake on his part and soon to be rectified, apparently), Dundee trouper Brian Cox attempts to save face by defiantly telling fans: “Je ne regrette rien.” Of course you don’t, Brian!

The class of ’27

Regularly despairing of the organisation that was once the BBC, I was finally heartened to read of the corporation’s recent pledge to have 75 per cent of its workforce still officially middle class by 2027.

While the mainstream media preferred to focus on the fact the other 25 per cent will apparently be “working class”, anyone with knowledge of the modern-day BBC knows this will also be largely made up of decent middle class folk, affecting hoi polloi backgrounds and estuary/provincial accents, in order to seamlessly rise up the ranks.

Just when we thought was safe to go out after two miserable years, it pains me to report that the elderly and vulnerable should remain locked behind closed doors once more.

I have it on good authority that the beaming vampire Brandreth is now back on his travels, preying on the infirm with apocryphal tales and unseemly commercial enterprises.

At the time of going to press, I’m advised the good residents of Wimborne, Taunton, Reading, Portsmouth, Dorking, Launceston and Nottingham should all be on high alert.

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