Skinny – Michelle Pearson

ACF24 Skinny Michelle Pearson photo by Claudio RaschellaLocal talent Michelle Pearson’s one-woman show Skinny is a Frank Ford Commission at the 2024 Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Although June in Adelaide can have some pleasing concerts, it’s nice hear a story told with songs.

The show’s blurb talks about the various controls or deprivations needed to become skinny, or stay that way. However, Pearson’s story about her weight goes back a lot further. Adults’ offhand comments, say about “puppy fat”, can kick off a six-year-old girl’s body-image concerns.

People might be more careful if they knew how words can weaken a child’s self esteem, and hence resistance, to the beauty industry’s predatory arms. Pearson has had a lot of unfortunate experiences here. But this World Premiere of Skinny rebukes the “less is more” attitude to attractiveness.

There seemed to be some opening night nerves evident in lower notes. However, fairly quickly Pearson warmed to the task, and delivered vocals with power and control. Often lyrics of popular songs were suitably tweaked to tell the story. For example, a take on We Didn’t Start the Fire gave us a rapid-fire listing of various weight-loss medications Pearson had tried.

Pearson was supported by a four-piece band of Aaron Nash on keyboard (also musical director and co-writer), Sam Millar on drums, Briohny Taylor on cello and Michael Ciaramella on electric bass. It was interesting to hear the quartet speak with different “accents” across the musical selections. Taylor’s foreboding cello in Radiohead’s Karma Police suitably complemented a tale of getting back at nasty school peers.

In contrast to piano which often features in cabaret, a certain coldness to the electric keyboard communicated isolation as our heroine struggled with low self-worth as the extreme measures for weight loss weren’t sustainable.

The band also showed they could get down and dirty when necessary, as seen in Pearson’s take on Ginuwine’s My Pony. Pearson’s enthusiasm for recalling this episode of “sexy time”, and efforts to get into some motivational (too small) jeans provided a modest amount of comic relief, but maybe not enough to justify the “comedy” tag seen online.

This is a new show, and there could be opportunities for further polish. At various times a question was projected on a screen, and respondents outlined how their weight fluctuations had affected their lives. I think one interviewee was Eadie Testro-Girasole of the memorably kooky cabaret Hot Fat Crazy.

Unlike the ABC’s interview show You Can’t Ask That though, these guests did not get a narrative arc. It might have been nice to hear how others have managed their mental health challenges, and if they are able to be kinder to themselves now.

Given how western culture can celebrate the skinny and ignore (or worse) everyone else, its unfortunate that these participants didn’t get to share successes, or even have names.

There’s also a nagging question of whether a dubious surgery at 24 actually had a silver lining given how the show takes a turn into considering acceptance and celebration of difference more broadly. Skinny seemed to have a lot of “girls’ night out” groups in the audience.

However, body image issues are on the rise in males these days, so this show should have wide appeal. We now know that larger bodies can still be healthy, so it seems appropriate to have a show such as this one to challenge harmful and limiting stereotypes.

Skinny – Michelle Pearson
Space Theatre – Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Performance: Saturday 15 June 2024 – 6.00pm
Season continues to 16 June 2024
Information and Bookings:

Image: Michelle Pearson presents Skinny – photo by Claudio Raschella

Review: Jason Whyte