FITTER at Soho Theatre
Mary Higgins and Ell Potter are former lovers who have partially resolved their differences in order to pursue tragic-comic theatre careers together. (How modern.) They must know they’re talented. Their latest offering ‘FITTER’ is a somewhat-sequel to the success-stained ‘HOTTER’, a 5-star sell-out hit about what makes women and transpeople sweat, flush, rub and gush. You would think, then, that this show would be an exploration of the territory uncharted – a light hour pondering the question “what makes men erect?”. It wasn’t.
Their audience is mostly a non-mix of White British 20-somethings with Oxbridge-tuned accents (who else is paying £20 for an early evening fringe show on a Wednesday?) There is a plain box in the centre of the stage. It’s a tame affair.
The performers spring onto the stage, their colour and charisma a stark contrast to the dull set. Higgins and Potter start as they mean to go on: bodies first. Their introduction is a nerdishly bold dance to a throbbing beat – as it should be; why say hello with a heavy script when you can invite the audience in with a dance track? Chortling, chuckling or chin-wagging, all are charmed.
Like its predecessor, the show is based on a series of interviews; this time, Higgins and Potter talked to trans men, cis men, and masculine-presenting people – a blatantly explained format that puts a fine point on thorough inclusivity. This will come to feel problematic: it’s clear from the interviewees’ accents that the majority of the interviewees were posh and most probably white. Higgins and Potter are keen to point out oppression they or their friends may have experienced, but they neglect forms of oppression that are apparently alien to them – were class and race even considered in their representativeness manifesto?
There are gimmick inclusions; a 102-year-old person of colour (who better to reflect the experience of the contemporary Black British man?) and a pair of working-class friends at their local pub who, if edits are to be believed, only ever speak in prejudices. And so, it seems this isn’t a show about men, at least not the majority of men in the UK or elsewhere – it’s about the men whom Higgins and Potter are likely to know, the friends and friends of friends in tonight’s audience.
Higgins and Potter have a powerful physical presence. Every facial expression, gesture and step is a potential or hard-hitting punchline. Their open-mouthed imitations of pre-pubescent boys are pitch-perfect moments helped by their interviewees’ cutesiness (Q. Do you prefer soft or hard? A. “A rugby ball’s soft, a hockey stick’s hard, what does that make me?”) Their physical talent continues to impress as they perform awe-inspiring, anus-inspired, choreography set to classical music, leaving the audience keeled over with laughter.
For the most part, this show feels like the most intensely enjoyable showcase you’ve ever seen – one you feel lucky to enjoy almost as much as Higgins and Potter do. Their choreography is punctuated by witty responses to the pride of their pretentious peers (“I don’t want to criticise you, but your question is too vague”) – the duo clearly relish being able to say what they wished they’d have said. There are monologues about the shock of sourcing a sensitive soul in a male body (who do things that Higgins and Potter find unbelievable, like make their lover feel “the most beautiful they could” – one must ask, is this a remark on menkind or these two?) Then Potter gives a content warning, and they settle down to open the plain box in the middle of the stage – the “box of trauma” that’s been there since the performance began, unrecognised. Potter reads out the story of her sexual assault. It’s heartbreaking. There is no performance here. Higgins then tells her story, a tale of heartbreak, reconnection and heartbreak once again. Though one sympathises with Higgins, there is a risk here of implicitly equating her trauma with Potter’s It’s hard to see the point of putting the two tales next to each other. One is a sexual assault; one is a couple of break ups.
The pair ensure that they end on a high: a celebratory lip-sync worthy of Ru Paul’s Drag Race cements Higgins and Potter as the audience’s darlings. There aren’t really any exact conclusions in this end, no take-home message. This is a showcase of undeniable talent disguised as a study of men. Higgins and Potter are certainly worthy of the stage, just not the lab.