Belfast Book Festival, The Crescent Arts Centre, 8 June 2019
Commissioned by Disability Arts Online
The Northern Irish word ‘quare’ doesn’t translate well across the English-speaking globe. The Urban Dictionary (hive mind of obscure sexual terms which could also have been invented for our regional vernacular) defines it thus: ‘noticeable, exceptional, strange or unusual, a substitute for very, really or extremely. Irish colloquial word, possibly derived from queer. In Irish usage the word has no homosexual connotations’.
Translate it, however, Ross Anderson-Doherty did. A homecoming gig following a wildly successful Australian tour, Anderson-Doherty (RAD from here on in, aye?), has never been more amazed than when his wet washing took only half an hour to dry in Melbourne. His Instagram followers now send their experiences of ‘quare drying days’ from around the world. Cake Daddy does something with vernacular language and queerness and fat and food and performativity – a stuchie, if you will (pron. styah-heyh: coarse greasy stew, a mixture of leavings cooked together. Substantial, satisfying).
If you’ve ever been to Fat Club (as no one calls it) you’ll be familiar with the format of the first part of the show. Cake Watchers™ draws on all the tropes – it is lecture-y and cringemakingly team-build-y, but funnier, and mercifully stops short of group-sharing. We are duly bookleted and carrots-as-stickers are dangled temptingly. ‘Slimmer of the Year’ taps into this language and ritual, with RAD channelling a no pain, no gain ideology. He proffers a cucumber – ‘CAN YOU JUST *SMELL* THE INNOCENCE?’ – replicated on his fabulously besequinned shoulders. There’s an upside-down banner stage left, jauntily complementing proceedings. I hope that in some future iteration of the show the staging can benefit from a vomitorium, just for the lolz.
I came to Cake Daddy an hour after another Belfast Book Festival event in the same venue (lovely bit of programming, so it was). Naomi Wolf, author of 1990’s The Beauty Myth, was on tour promoting her new book entitled Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love. The issues raised in this event couldn’t fail to carry through my experience of Cake Daddy: the oppression of marginalised groups who are perceived as monolithic, the laws that eventually – no matter your identity – will someday come for you too (an irony not lost on a Northern Irish audience). Worst of all; the state-sanctioned societal assertion that ‘your filth affects me’. It’s not just the moralising but the medicalising that’s boring. Like RAD, my BMI calculator tips at ‘morbidly obese’. My fatness too is responsible for [insert every/anything].
‘Mammy told me cakes spell danger
Doctor shook his head
Blamed the sniffle, dandruff, skin rash,
On the fact I was well fed’.
Works like Cake Daddy and the Sofie Hagen/Scottee mash-up Hamburger Queen (a ‘beauty, talent and culinary pageant’), help to galvanise a set of values that shouldn’t be revolutionary, but somehow still are. The body positivity movement must not be co-opted by slim, able and drearily standard white women on Instagram. This is radical, political goodness right here; against the homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, ageism, ableism and classism so prevalent in our media streams. Of course, it’s problematic that the movement falls into the ‘beauty’ trap all too readily, but reframing ideas formed over millennia needs a starting point.
Confronted with all this new-fangled self-respect, at least people can always remind you that it’s your health they care about. Cake Daddy reminds us that we don’t owe anybody our health. An Instagram post on RAD’s feed – “we fat people don’t need to lose mass in order to exact revenge on those who mock and humiliate and diminish us” – is rounded off by a below-the-line comment that doesn’t bear repeating. I’m astonished that he has the energy to keep fighting, not in a kcal sense, but because he must be (as Scottee puts it) “fat-igued”.
RAD has a soaring voice, at its best when he affects a Mariah vibrato and the still-hilarious index-finger-wobble (where’s the Urban Dictionary portmanteau for this?). I imagine it’s the kind of beautifully Mammy-friendly voice that Tom Jones would turn his chair for. Every verse is specifically funny, coarse and moving. There’s a marked volta mid-way through the evening with ‘Life on the Wing [Soaring]’. This is a number that recounts the butterfly wings that RAD’s Mammy Bernie bought for him in the eighties – his first opportunity for self-expression – an escape from his childhood fatness, burgeoning queerness and the daily domestic drudgery of Belfast in the so-called final decade of The Troubles. The wings break, inevitably. Both literally and figuratively, the message goes: you must stay small at all costs. ‘Soaring high above your place’ is not for the likes of us.
‘She stands and watches me,
And shrugs and says “you were getting too fat”’
RAD has pre-recorded his Mammy’s words, allowing the backing track to do the heavy lifting here. Who among us could repeat the words of our otherwise loving, supportive family (“they’re actually quite proud of me now”) night after night and not feel their blows like punches to the chest?
At the peak of his exercise regime, and the trough of his mental and physical health, RAD dies. He *literally* DIES. Following his sixteenth kettlebell class in one week, his heart stops. Personal trainer Lindsey’s ‘tangerine face’ looms; his heartbeat and footsteps no longer his own. Six days in a cardiac ward with inedible food. No self-respecting weight loss voyager would bat away grapes (‘the most innocent of fruits, unlike me’), but he does. On one night of these six, a mystery benefactor brings a wee white cardboard box. I can’t even remember which baked items he said were contained therein, the whooping from the audience was so loud (also, wines… how could I not?). RAD was sick. Sick of having guilt about shame, and shame about guilt, and vowed NO MORE. Tonight, his proudly exposed and sparkly diddies belie that his heart was hangin’ out of him.
The craic is unyielding throughout. Like, except those bits when everyone wanted to cry. The arrival of the most unicorn-y cake you ever did see – pink, sparkly and only just big enough to feed 30+ tables – is wheeled out on a catering trolley/mortuary gurney to mark a buoyant return to fat-form. The show builds to a rousing climax as we make The Cake Daddy Pledge™ and chant as one:
‘I fat, you fat, we fat!’
‘Cake Daddy gonna Fat the fuck outta you haters!’
‘Fat is a verb!’
Fat is a doing word and, here – buck me – Ross Anderson-Doherty is doing the quare thing.