Comedy review: Jessica Fostekew: Hench, Monkey Barrel, Edinburgh

Concurrent with building up her body, positively, for the first time, with Hench, Jessica Fostekew is doing some heavier lifting with her stand-up as well.
Jessica Fostekew: Hench, Monkey Barrel, Edinburgh. Picture: Idil SukanJessica Fostekew: Hench, Monkey Barrel, Edinburgh. Picture: Idil Sukan
Jessica Fostekew: Hench, Monkey Barrel, Edinburgh. Picture: Idil Sukan

Jessica Fostekew: Hench, Monkey Barrel, Edinburgh * * * *

The ascension hasn’t been easy.

Weight-training has been empowering and revealing for a comic who has always had mixed feelings about her strength – exemplified by the clumsily flirtatious, traditionally masculine appraisal she attracted at the gym, from which this thoughtful show takes its title. “Thank you for my compliment!” she cries in a mock-gratitude wail that becomes the show’s refrain.Oppressed by conventional attitudes towards women’s body shapes, expressed by her mother, personal trainer and the diet industry, she realises that she’s nevertheless evolving, finding humour in the situations where she’s slightly ahead of, or behind, society’s curve.

Secure in the knowledge that, for all her insecurity about her size, she was a strong and free-thinking mother-to-be, Fostekew opted for a hippyish, hypno-birth without drugs. Such was her smug assurance that you can foresee the hubris immediately. Yet Fostekew excels in capturing her own dawning horror as her carefully laid plans are tossed aside, her preconceptions about her body’s capabilities taking a significant battering.

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A brilliant piece of storytelling, where she can be wise after the fact, it finds its companion piece in her trying to raise her son respectfully feminist and gender neutral. Thwarted by her family and the boy’s natural monstrosity, she winningly conveys her love-hate feelings for him.

While her own ideas are nuanced, Fostekew is scornful of the basic narratives of the diet industry and scathing about attacks on trans and intersex athletes. And she highlights the lie of power and endurance being masculine traits with a withering protest at male genitals being seen as synonymous with strength.

Until 25 August