In this confessional docu-comedy, reprised after a Fringe run as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, performer Juliette Burton looks at society’s obsession with physical appearance through the prism of her own body image battles. If that sounds overbearingly worthy, and therefore dull, it isn’t. It’s highly entertaining, even on a Saturday night on the Royal Mile when there’s easier thrills to be had nearby.
The subject matter is now common currency, and no right-thinking individual will find their eyes opened, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of the topic, or the engaging way in which it is presented. She introduces us to her own internal tormentor, who she calls Tanya, the voice of a slimmer, prettier girl constantly telling her she isn’t good enough. In a series of ‘candid camera’ style videos, she then confronts this demon, taking a city centre walkabout in outfits which distort the way she looks – as a ‘sexy’ girl, as a ‘plus-size’ lady. She visits Agent Provocateur in a niqab and Ann Summers dressed as an old lady. Maybe we learn little – no-one can really be surprised that a girl in barely-there hot pants and bra attracts stares (from both men and women) – but the reactions of passers-by are genuinely hilarious.
On its own, it is a diverting, shareable YouTube video, but sculpted into a set that includes detailed accounts of her own personal traumas, it is a smart way of providing light to that shade; her own story is too horrific to be funny. She gives us permission to laugh as she recounts how her teenage weight sank to four stone and then rose to nineteen, but really, confronted with photographic evidence, compassion is the only response. When she cuts to a single spotlight to recall her mother cradling her cold, skeletal frame for warmth, Burton turns this into a show that has literally moved its audience to both laughter and tears.
For that reason, it’s easy to forgive the occasional forced gag or overly staged set-up. This show has been tightly scripted to give dynamics and flow and to direct the audience this way and that. It succeeds. Judging a show about not being judged could be a critic’s nightmare, but fortunately Look At Me is a beautiful thing in many different ways.