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What's Your Issue?
The Cockpit
25th August 2016

★★★★☆

Publicity photograph for What's Your Issue

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

Like most teenagers in the noughties, I grew up reading Glamour Magazine. I must confess that I spent hours poring over the photos and imagining myself as a 'prettier', more successful version. Whilst it's all about t'interwebs now, the publishing industry is still presenting unattainable, digitally touched up images. Co-written by Rachael Bellis and Tom Hartwell, What's Your Issue? examines this hugely relevant topic through the eyes of four people in the magazine business: Liss (Meena Rayann), the young model who doesn't want to be photoshopped; Karina (Quelling Sepulveda), the aspiring writer and magazine fanatic; Danni (Jeryl Burgess), the publishing CEO with an eating disorder; and Justin (Joseph Begley), the company's caterer and gym fanatic.

Justin and Karina are boyfriend and girlfriend however their relationship is on rocky ground, ruined by their insecurities. So when supermodel Liss (who Karina also idolises) pays attention to Justin the ginger caterer, he can't help but follow her. Meanwhile Karina lands her dream writing job at Sabine Magazine, where Justin and Liss both work. It's easy to see that this won't end well for someone, but I'll leave you to find out who. While all this relationship drama is going on, Liss finds out that her cover photo has been massively altered by Danni, and Karina writes an online article (unbeknownst to Danni and Liss) about the unattainable images in their industry. When the article inevitably goes viral, things come to a head for all four of our protagonists.

Although the unrealistic body image presented by publishers is the central focus of the play, it also examines other reasons for our insecurities. From the exercise-obsessed father and the mother who can't stop telling you to fix your hair, to the parents who make you finish everything on your plate, this show sympathetically looks at why everyone from supermodels to caterers can have body image issues. Director Sophia Start also highlights our flaws in the most intimate way possible.

At regular intervals the plot freezes while a film projected on a large screen zooms in on 'imperfect' body parts (e.g. lack of a thigh gap) from one of the cast. At the same time, the audio recounts scenes from the characters' lives to highlight how they came to have the opinions they do. This multimedia element is very interesting and allows the small cast to bring an extra dimension to the plot. Perhaps at times it is overdone though, particularly at the start where it goes on a little. The audio also needs to be a bit louder sometimes, as I had to really concentrate to pick up all the details.

The cast, as you would expect given some of the big names (if you're wondering why you recognise Rayann and Begley, they have both been in Game of Thrones), are very strong. Despite some unrealistic situations in the story (as somebody who works in publishing, albeit in a less glamourous area, I can assure you that you won’t be the only person interviewing for a writing job and that you will have to work a bit harder in your interview to get it than Karina), the actors make it feel very believable and you instinctively empathise with them. They are also brave enough to strip down to their underwear at several points with the specific intention of showing their own real body issues. In one memorable scene, Liss and Justin draw on each other to illustrate everything they would like to change. Even supermodels have problems!

This is a very touching look at the body hangups that let's be honest, we all have to some degree or another. What's Your Issue? has a great cast, engaging scenes and plot and is unafraid enough to highlight its subject matter head on. Overall, a highly enjoyable and moving production.

What's Your Issue? opened on 25th August and runs until 26th August 2016 at the Cockpit, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Marylebone (Bakerloo)



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