Note: This review is from the 2019 Fringe

Comedian, writer, actor and co-host of the hugely popular podcast The Guilty Feminist, Jessica Fostekew opens Hench with a little bit of feminist flirting. A couple of female audience members are praised for their personality rather than looks and a male audience member is described as ‘compliant.’ It’s a great icebreaker which sets up an hour of comedy that makes you ponder the language used to describe the sexes and how one person’s compliment may be another’s insult.

To the unfamiliar, ‘hench’ means big and muscly and is a term usually applied to men. Fostekew was once called hench by a man at the gym in a cack-handed attempt at flirting, which he followed up by using the word heavy (which draws sharp gasps from the audience). Hench looks back at the relationship Fostekew has had with her body, from her years of trying to make it smaller in healthy (and unhealthy) ways to taking up weightlifting and choosing to make her body bigger and stronger.

The consistently funny set examines what is considered feminine by society through anecdotes involving childbirth, a judgemental personal trainer and the trials and tribulations of raising a ‘sexist baby.’ Hench also pulls apart the pseudoscience of companies who sell slimming programmes to largely vulnerable people, which has most of the crowd nodding along in recognition. Every joke lands but it’s almost too much for the audience who barely have time to draw breath. It sometimes feels like the jokes could use a moment to sink in before moving on.

A naturally gifted storyteller, Fostekew’s weaves a clever and thought-provoking narrative. A piece about testosterone levels in male and female athletes and the case of Caster Semenya may cause some of the largely-white, middle class audience to squirm in their seats but the comedian is not here to take prisoners – if she sees injustice, she uses her position of privilege to call it out. Some of her contemporaries should take note.