What did Arabella Weir’s mother leave to her when she passed away? “Some money, a lovely watercolour and a shitload of material for my first stand-up show.” Anyone with a fractious relationship with a parent will strongly relate to many of the stories Weir shares in Does My Mum Loom Big in This? which details the emotional abuse she received at the hands of her austere, eccentric and self-absorbed mother, Alison. The show’s title is derived, obviously, from Weir’s famous catchphrase from her days in The Fast Show, ‘does my bum look big in this?’ – also the title of one of her novels. Weir’s lifelong insecurity about her weight that has inspired so much of her creative output was, surprise surprise, engendered by her fat-shaming mother, who continued to make derisory comments about Arabella’s appearance even when literally on her deathbed.
Weir’s key skill has always been to make her audience, particularly women, feel less alone, by addressing honestly the various pressures we face, and highlighting the ridiculousness of the hypocrisy and double standards of the patriarchy. This show is no exception, and many of the key themes are sure to be almost universally relatable. While it might appeal more directly to audiences with some element of dysfunction in their family background (so, everyone, surely?), Weir is careful to place her tyrannical mother in context as a woman shaped by the values of the society in which she grew up.
That said, one or two of the stories she shares are genuinely shocking and upsetting. That Weir’s experience is as an actor rather than a stand-up comedian is most evident at these points, as she fails to successfully manage the shifts in tone and respond to the atmosphere in the room. She delivers a particularly disturbing section about sexual abuse enablers with the same gentle ‘what are they like?’ jocularity as when she is making anodyne gags about calorie counting. The result is a little unsettling, and not conducive to uproarious laughter.
There’s also something about Weir’s manner that doesn’t quite fit perfectly in a stand-up situation. With her clear enunciation, perfect diction and purposeful body language, Weir comes across at points a little like a private school drama teacher rehearsing a monologue, rather than there being the semblance of spontaneity and intimacy that successful stand-ups can foster. Given the personal nature of the show and the self-deprecating nature of much of the humour, a warmer, more informal delivery style may have served her better.
Weir is consistently engaging, however, and often very funny. Her strongest sections are not actually about her mother at all, but about her frantic attempts not to repeat history with her own children. The resulting impression is that Weir’s children are mortified by her in an entirely different (and less actually traumatising) way. A central element of this is Weir embarrassing her kids by dancing to pop music. And, yes, once you’ve seen it in real time, you can sort of see where they’re coming from. Does My Mum Loom Big in This? is an enjoyable hour from a comedy veteran working in unfamiliar territory.