Who let the dogs out?

I’m back at the Young Vic tonight.

And no, we’re not talking about all that stuff going on. I’m not getting involved. I don’t know what’s going on and I refuse to have an opinion on the matter.

Not that I haven’t been thinking about it. A lot. And talking about it. A lot. It doesn’t help that one of the upcoming shows at my work features a dancer in… that show. I mean, how do you credit that in a biography without sounding like you are taking sides?

No. We’re not talking about it. Not here.

The controversy doesn’t seem to have damaged attendance figures though. The Cut is absolutely thronging with people having a last drink and a cigarette before going in. That Death of a Salesman is a juggernaut, and nothing can get in its way.

I’m not here to see that though.

“The surname’s Smiles,” I say to the lady behind the box office. “It’s for Ivan and the Dogs,” I add hurriedly as her hands reach for the larger of the two ticket boxes on the counter. I allow myself a smug smile. It isn’t often I manage to remember the name of a play in these situations.

She nods and digs out my ticket. “Maxine? You’re in the far corner,” she says, pointing off to the other side of the bar.

Ticket in hand, I launch myself into the crowded bar and head in the direction she was pointing. And find myself back in the exact same place I queued for Bronx Gothic on my last visit. The signage, stencilled onto the brickwork, is on the same patch of wall. And the arrow is pointing towards the same door.

I begin to panic.

Don’t tell me that I booked into the same venue twice. Please don’t tell me that.

I check my ticket.

Nope. It’s the Clare. Not the Maria.

Okay then. We’re alright.

There’s an usher on the door. Sorry, scrap that. There’s a member of the Welcome Team on the door. But no one else. It’s too early for the queue to start forming. And I’m not about to start it.

I turn around and go outside, finding a spare patch of wall to prop myself against and check my emails.

I seem to be leaning against some posters. I look over my shoulder to see what they are advertising.


It’s Tree.

Because of course it is.

“Are you watching the show tonight?”

I look up. It’s a Welcome Teamer.


“Death of a Salesman?”

Ah. I see. “No. No. No,” I assure here. “I’m here for the other one.” Which I’ve already forgotten the name of.

“That’s alright then,” says the Welcome Teamer, and she’s soon off rounding up any other wall-hangers.  “Are you watching Death of a Salesman? Are you watching Death of a Salesman?”

I wait a few more minutes, until the start time of the main house show has safely passed, then I go back in.

The bar is empty.

Well, relatively. Can the bar at the Young Vic ever be said to be truly empty?

At the far end, there’s a queue under the Ivan and the Dogs sign.


Not a big one. But then, it’s not a big venue. I hurry over and join the end of it.

A Welcome Teamer makes his way down the line. “I’m going to tear the tickets now,” he explains. “Make it nice and easy when you go in. The show is an hour and five minutes, and no interval.”

I give him my ticket, and he rips off the stub. And a large chunk of the actual ticket. But no matter. I may be precious about getting paper tickets, but what happens to them afterwards doesn’t bother me. I probably don’t need to tell you that I am the sort of person who cracks the spines of her paperbacks and folds down pages to mark my space. Adds character, you know.

The line is growing, almost reaching the box office now.

We wriggle and flow, breaking apart and shivering back into place, as people squeeze past us.

“Beep, beep!” says a staff members pushing a flat trolley. “Sorry! Sorry!”

The queue goes into Red Sea mode, parting for him and then splashing back into place as soon as the Deliverer of Trollies has passed through.

I jump aside for people going to the loo. For a waitress returning plates to the kitchen. For Welcome Teamers. More piss-takers. And more bar staff.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” says a waitress as she moves nimbly through the queue up towards the bar.

Honestly, the Young Vic really need to get this queue situation sorted. It’s impossible. I hope it’s next on the list after… well… you know.

I use the time to massage my hands. Work is really doing a number on me at the moment. I thought it would be the marathon that would kill me, but now I think my job might get in there first. Eleven pages of programme amends typed up before 10am this morning, and my hands are cramped the fuck up.

“Hi guys!” says the Welcome Teamer on ticket duty. “If we could make a little room for my colleague here,” he says, leading the way for the trolley pusher, now with his vehicle laden with two huge bins full to the brim with empty wine bottles.

We all shuffle out of their way, reforming the queue in their wake.

“Have I ripped you?” asks the Welcome Teamer as the trolley pusher disappears through the doors. We all nod. All ripped round here.

As one, the two Welcome Teamers open up the double doors with such ceremony I almost expect there to be a trumpet player on the other side ready to launch into a fanfare.

Instead the cry of “Has everyone been ripped?” reigns out as we walk through.

“Just remember to turn off your phone,” comes the voice of a Welcome Teamer as we make our way down the hall. “Straight down and to the right.”

I try to work out were we are in relation to the Maria, but it’s dark and this place is a labyrinth. I just focus on following everyone else and not getting lost.

Straight down. Turn right.

And there we are. The Clare. Bright and shining after so long in the dark.

A Welcome Teamer in a red polo shirt is handing out freesheets. “Wherever you like,” he says, indicating the multitude of options there are with seating.

The stage is a small square, set in the middle of the room at an angle. Around in, on four sides, are four matching banks of seats. Two rows. Seats set into wooden fortresses. The same colour as the walls, which look like someone has been having a lot of fun with panels of plywood and a nail gun.

I pick a seat in the second row, on the end, so that I’m forming a point of the diamond.

The seats begin to fill up.

“If you’re holding drinks,” announces the Welcome Teamer, “keep hold of them and don’t put them on the floor.”

“What did he say?” asks my neighbour.

“Don’t put your drinks on the floor,” her friend replies, with an audible roll of the eyes.

I say fair enough though. There isn’t much legroom and cups are liable to get kicked down there. And with all this pale wood… well, I wouldn’t envy the poor sod attempting to scrub red wine out of it.

My neighbour gets out her freesheet and starts inspecting it. “This doesn’t tell you what it’s about,” she says. “It’s just who’s in it.”

I open up my own to have a look for myself. She’s not wrong. There’s a cast list. And two biogs. One for the writer. One for the director. Nothing about the actor… which seems like a strange decision to make when there’s only one of them.

No dogs I notice. I do enjoy a dog on stage. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s one of the top things I enjoy seeing. I’ve even been known to book a show on the strength of its canine casting. I would say the same about cats, but I think I’ve only seen a cat once on stage. In an opera. She was called Girlie and she was very talented. Really captured the essence of ‘cat’ by sleeping and then running off stage.

“They’ve added in these seats,” my neighbour continues. “I wonder if they had complaints.”

Yes, I was wondering about that. Not the late addition of them, I’ve never been in this space before. But their arrangement. Actual chairs, sunk into wooden structures. Their legs hidden in the box below. “Before you just sat on it,” she explains.

That doesn’t sound all that comfy. This arrangement is much better. Even if it is a little bit odd-looking.


The actor, Alex Austin comes out and perches on the edge of the stage. He looks sad. I’m not surprised. Probably got a look at those freesheets.

The Welcome Teamer is hanging out the door, peering down the dark corridor, on the lookout for latecomers.

Someone does come in.

She takes one of the reserved seats, just across from me. She gets out a notebook and positions it on her lap.

Time for another round of Blogger or Director? Nah. I recognise her. No missing that fabulous hair. So shiny. Straight out of a Pantene ad. She used to work at my work. And now look at her! A fancy director.

The lights dim.

Austin gets up. He’s ready to tell us a story. A story of fists and fear and running away. A story of hunger and hiding. A story of dogs.

He pauses, grinning as he looks around the audience, after telling us about how the white dog ate his potato.

We all aww in response. A couple sitting across from me look at each other and smile.

We are all utterly charmed.

The lights flash back on. I’m left squinting against the brightness. Austin turns around, holding our stares, not allowing us to blink.

I curl round my shoulders and try to hold his gaze against the onslaught of the light, suddenly feeling very vulnerable.

Just as my poor eyes grow used to this blazing light, the theatre dims once more.

Austin finishes his story. A few snuffles make their way around the audience.

He’s moved on. Started a new life.

And at the end, it is the empty stage that gets the spotlight.

Our applause brings him back though. He bows in one direction, and then the other, before bouncing off the stage and out the door in a gigantic leap that he must have learnt from the dogs.

My big fat brain

It has suddenly occurred to me, sitting here, on my bed, at home, that I have no idea how to write this blog post.

Usually I have something to start off with. A funny thing that happened, an embarrassing moment that I figure I might as well tell you, or an annoyance that can fill a few hundred words. And the fact is, that yes - I have all of those. But it feels inappropriate to go down that route. Because this show is the first one that I actually booked for me, and not for the marathon. I went to see it because I thought it was important for me to do so. Not to fill some self-imposed quota. And not to check off a venue. This was the show that I organised all my Vault Festival bookings around. Because I thought it was the one I had to go to, above all the others.

So, while I could spend a blog post detailing everything that irritates me about the Vaults, I’m not going to do that. Not with this one.

That’s a big statement from something who is just sat here floundering about with words.

So, let’s try and impose some order on this colloquy chaos shall we?

Why did I go? Why this show?

Okay, great start. Good, strong start.

I went to see Fatty Fat Fat because I used to be a Fatty Fat Fat.

And no this isn’t going to be a preachy blog post about how I lost the weight or any such bollocks, because fuck that shit. I lost weight through a combination of anxiety, stress, and insomnia. Which put me in the strange position of gaining thin privilege and yet not having done anything to deserve it. Result: I have a fuck tonne of unresolved issues on the matter.

I was fat. And now I’m not. And it’s weird. And it’s impossible to talk about properly.

I spent so much of my life as a fat person that I can’t ever imagine myself as anything else. No matter what I look like in the mirror, I will forever think fat. I have a fat mentality. A fat brain. Fat emotions. A fat soul, even.

And yes, I say fat because I was fat. Not chubby. Not fluffy. Not over-whatever-weight. I was fat. Properly fat. Very fat.

How fat was I? I believe it's considered harmful, by those people who understand these things, to post actual numbers, but I also know how annoying it is to not know - so let's say: a fashion designer would have called me plus size, to a teenage boy I’d have been an ugly fat cow, and a doctor would have termed me class three morbidly obese.

Whatever, I was fat.

And I never saw myself on stage.

No, wait. That’s not true.

I can remember seeing one significant fat character on stage. A girl. Who flirted with a boy. And he flirted back. And it was adorable. They were adorable. And I was so frickin’ happy.

That was, until the playwright turned her into the joke.

And it killed me.

No prizes for guessing it was a Martin McDonagh.

God, I hate him. And love him. And hate him more.

This blog post is not about Martin McDonagh.

Other than to explain why I wanted to see a play written by a fat woman, and one who claimed that fatness. A play where if there was a joke, that the fat people would be in on it.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a one-woman show. Sorry Katie Greenall, I was asking a lot of you as I headed into the Studio at the Vaults and took my seat.

But that’s the thing with underrepresented classes. When a show does come around, it has to cater to every single need and taste, because there’s nothing else out there offering it as a choice on the menu.

So, I can forgive Katie for making the audience clap along to the Cha-Cha Slide. You already know that I can’t clap in time with music, so I sat that one out.

I can also kind of forgive her picking someone to come onstage through the medium of hiding a crisp packet under their seat, but only because I’ve told myself that was a set-up, and both the crisp packet and the audience member were planted - because the alternative is too abhorrent to contemplate.  

And I can forgive her making us play Never Have I Ever, a game I hate because I find the grammar confusing, because she gave us all crisps to eat along with her and I ended up eating a lot of crisps.


What I can’t forgive is the raw words that she threw down once all the silly games had ended. With truth flying all over that small space there was nowhere to hide.

Story followed story, dripped out - sometimes as simple throw-away tales, others more poetic in structure - and each one burning out a hole in me as they found a similar tale in my own memories, burrowing in deep to pull them out.

It was brave. It was painful. And I really, really, needed it.

I needed to hear those stories. Perhaps as much as Katie seemed to need to tell them.

And perhaps as much as I need to tell a few of my own.

Like the time that the piano teacher in my childhood ballet lessons pulled me aside to ask if I ate crisps (what is it with crisps?).

Or the time when I was playing Charlie’s mother in my school’s version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory my English teacher stopped the rehearsal to change Charlie’s line from “my mother looks so pale and thin” to “pale and tired” in front of my whole class.

Or the time I was given a digital scale as a birthday present.

Or the time my mother offered to pay for weight loss surgery.

Or the time I had to explain to my landlord exactly how I had managed to break my bed.

Or the time when my nephew asked me why I was so big. Well, not exactly that time. I would have forgotten it entirely if I hadn’t mentioned it to my sister-in-law - laughing as I shared the joke. “He means impressive,” she quickly explained. Too quickly. That was not what he had meant at all, but her desperation to cover his gaff hurt more than his words ever could.

Or the times, so many times, that my old flatmate, Leanne, the prettiest girl I had ever seen in my life, used me as a human shield when we went out dancing together, to protect her from the predatory eyes of boys who could see only her.

Wow. Too many times. Too much hurt.

But here’s the thing they don’t tell you about being fat: it gives you superpowers.

The fat brain is very perceptive. It can see the world differently to those who have never carried the weight.

Because it knows the world’s dark secret.

It knows that every time someone stops their car to let me cross the road, that five minutes later they'll be speeding up to make a fat person run.

It knows that when a waiter gives an admiring smile in response to my request for a massive slice of cake, that they’ll be fighting back a wave of disgust at the next fat person who does the same thing.

And I have to live with that.

And let me tell you, it makes it super hard to trust new people.

Every comment about a fat person, every joke I hear, will be analysed and turned over a thousand times.

Would they have liked me if they knew me when I was fat? Would they have even seen me?

Would you? No seriously. I’m asking. Would you be reading this blog if I was still fat? I know I certainly wouldn’t have written it.

I had the idea for this marathon five years ago. And this is the year I chose the go through with it. The year I wasn’t fat anymore.

It hadn’t occurred to me before this moment, this exact moment, that these two things might be connected.

But of course they are.

I just didn’t want to admit it to myself.

The world has grown the smaller I got.

And just thank god that all of my closest friends now knew me when I was fat. Knew what I looked like and still treated me as a human being, and a friend, and not something other.

Because fat people are other. They are set-apart. Their stories untold and unheard.

And that is why I went to see Fatty Fat Fat, and you should too.

Right, that’s enough of that. I’m going to quickly post this before I wimp out.