Get us in your inbox


Thigh Gap review

  • Theatre
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
  1. Thigh Gap La Mama 2019 supplied
    Photograph: Jack Dixon-Gunn
  2. Thigh Gap La Mama 2019 supplied
    Photograph: Jack Dixon-Gunn
  3. Thigh Gap La Mama 2019 supplied
    Photograph: Jack Dixon-Gunn

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Jamaica Zuanetti takes on Instagram culture – and other age-old questions

The title is a reference to a ludicrous notion of feminine beauty that can only have come from Instagram via the world of trash magazines. And in this tale of two flatmates sucked into the vortex of unachievable societal expectations and capitalist guilt, playwright Jamaica Zuanetti mercilessly sends up the culture that gave rise to the thigh gap and other related lunacies. There is a kaleidoscopic house-of-horrors tone to the work that perfectly encapsulates the madness of the times.

It opens on Iris (Veronica Thomas) lying on the couch, bored and unable to muster enthusiasm for anything that might relieve it. She tries a book, she tries to draw, she plays with her phone; eventually she watches TV, and that’s when the rot sets in. The show that comes on is some romantic pap, and the ads that follow – for lipstick or perfume or makeup, it really doesn’t matter – are worse, because they promise a satisfaction they have no intention of delivering. It’s a pointed opening, a dialogue-free meditation on the perniciousness of capitalism and its particular effect on women.

The next scene introduces new flatmate Gemma (Lauren Mass), perky and successful and professional – she works for an architectural firm, whereas Iris works in a café – and the “meet cute” is suitably warm and awkward, a well-worn dynamic that nevertheless establishes two competing value systems. Gemma is into Tarot and displays the optimism of the fatalist; Iris is a self-described realist, firmly on the side of indeterminism.

If this were Neil Simon, these two value systems would compete with each other for a while, come to a point and resolve, but Zuanetti isn’t really interested in this kind of structure; nor is she setting two competing value systems against each other. Iris and Gemma might think differently but their world is the same, and it will crash whatever party they intend on having. The point the playwright is making is that regardless of your philosophy, regardless of the psychological barriers you might erect to keep them out, the toxic ideologies of the world penetrate every wall.

Which makes the play sound oppressive and dour. It’s neither of these things; the overall thrust is comedic, from the satirical to the slapstick, and the performances are consistently delightful. Thomas nails the desperation and the doubt running under Iris’s surface ambivalence, while Mass is winningly chirpy and chastened as Gemma. There’s a beautifully defeated humanism driving their characters, a sense that they are throwing their options into the wind and seeing if anything will catch.

Director Alice Darling handles some scenes brilliantly: the mindless arm exercises the women learn from Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal trainer are a hoot, and the slapstick drunk scene, with facepalms and the force-feeding of a breadstick, is genius. But she isn’t so strong on transitions, and there are long stretches that feel confused. It highlights the play’s key flaw, a tendency to reiterate the same point without escalating or shifting the dynamics.

Sophie Woodward’s vulva-like set – so pink it feels pornographic – is brilliantly off-kilter, and the lighting by John Collopy and Georgie Wolfe is vivid and clever. But on opening night there were a fair few cues missed and, in a play that relies heavily on atmosphere and timing, this cost the production dearly.

Thigh Gap mightn’t be saying anything particularly new about societal pressures on women to conform, to commodify their own sexuality and project it back onto the world, but in some ways this is its point. Women have always had to do this, and Austen’s heroines forced to “take a walk around the grounds” are not much different from the poor characters forcing themselves to follow Paltrow’s trainer’s arm movements. “Plus ça change”, Zuanetti seems to be saying, but also “what the actual fuck?”

Tim Byrne
Written by
Tim Byrne


You may also like
You may also like