What 'Cake Daddy' can teach us about fatphobia

Local queer artists, director Alyson Campbell and playwright Lachlan Philpott, have teamed up with Belfast’s most celebrated cabaret singing bear Ross Anderson-Doherty and composer Marty Byrne to create a work that pokes deep into an ubiquitous obsession with body shape, challenging stigma by shining a bright disco light on contemporary diet and ‘wellness’ cultures.

Cake Daddy tells Ross Anderson-Doherty’s story about being fat in a fatphobic world. In making the work his aim was to re-appropriate the word fat while examining the scaremongering and hatred-inspiring messages about a global epidemic of obesity.

"This work is about not apologising for taking up space, not trying to diet, not trying to make oneself quiet, and encouraging people to stop trying to change their body size," Anderson-Doherty says.

A winsome, gregarious man with a sharp wit and elfish twinkle in his eyes, Ross Anderson-Doherty is intelligent, aware and very much in demand as a singer and performer in his home city, Belfast.

“I never stop singing but this work is a very new thing for me. Through a long collaboration with Alyson Campbell [director] and Lachlan Philpott [playwright] that I have been able to dig deep and find an exciting theatrical form to present this material very close to both my heart and hips."

In Cake Daddy, Ross reels the audience into his world. It is one that veers like a set of scales between accounts of heavy weight of public judgement of him and his body weight and takes us with deft lightness towards the birth of Cake Daddy, his alter ego and kind of queer, fat singing superhero.

Making highly personal work and delving into memories that are in some ways painful is a brave thing for any artist, especially when they are on stage alone.

“I came to a point when it was clear that I had to change who I am in the world. I started renegotiating my assumptions about health. The sciences have been used as a weapon to keep fat people in their place and the medical field excludes fat people from research," Anderson-Doherty says.

"For years I tried to get rid of my fatness and I always felt like I was on an impossible journey to a better, more acceptable new me. It was the writings of fat activists Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor that helped me view myself in a different way and made it possible for me to make and become Cake Daddy.

In addition to laying bare the fortitude required to step into the world as a fat person today, it is a hugely fun and fabulous work with a catchy assortment of original songs. And like Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby, humour is Anderson-Doherty's sharpest tool to evoke insight.

"Anyone who grew up or lived in Belfast during The Troubles had to learn to laugh at all sorts of stuff. It’s just a way to survive," he says.

The show's director, Alyson Campbell, says it's exciting to see Midsumma allow "representation of a whole lot of different types of bodies".

"Cake Daddy takes a positive position on fatness and this work is special and very queer. It is heart-wrenching in moments but what draws you in is Ross’s irrepressible humour, life view and humanity."

By Stevie Zipper

Cake Daddy plays at Theatre Works Melbourne between Monday February 4 and Sunday February 10.