Nicola Coughlan, fat actress, wins apology over critic calling her fat

A piece published on the website of Justice for Men & Boys (and the women who love them), the political party of which I’m the chairman, in June 2018:

The irony of someone with my BMI posting this piece isn’t lost on me. It’s probably a hormone problem, completely unconnected with my enthusiastic appetite for pies and beer, pizza and wine. Our thanks to Emma for this piece in today’s Times by David Sanderson, Arts Correspondent:

A theatre magazine has been forced to apologise for describing the Derry Girls actress Nicola Coughlan as overweight.

The critic Philip Fisher called her character an “overweight little girl” in a review of the acclaimed production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at London’s Donmar Warehouse.

Coughlan, 31, said that the remark, made in The British Theatre Guide, was “cruel” and pointed out that there is no reference to the character’s weight in the text for the production, which is based on Muriel Spark’s 1961 novel. The character, Joyce Emily Hammond, 16, is introduced as a rich “delinquent” who wants to be part of Miss Brodie’s “set” of schoolgirls.

“Philip Fisher, I know you are a theatre reviewer and your body had no relevance to your job but maybe you’d like me to cruelly review it for you and post it online,” Coughlan said. “#TimesUp on reviewing women’s bodies, when you should be reviewing their work.” The British Theatre Guide apologised “unreservedly for the offence caused by the wording of this review” adding that the “offending words have been removed”.

Fisher had written: “Nicola Coughlan as Joyce Emily, the kind of overweight little girl who will always become the butt of her fellows’ immature humour”.

Coughlan said Fisher had mentioned her weight before, describing her as a “fat girl” in a review of a show she was in last year at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre.

“There’s no reference to the character’s weight at any point in the script, this was targeted to me and not for the first time,” she said.

“My weight has no relevance to either the performance I gave in that or in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” she said.

The apology is the latest instance of theatre reviewers being criticised for perceived offences. The Stage, the theatre industry’s leading publication, amended a review this month after the critic made “references to behaviour of other audience members”. The review was of a production of Shebeen at Nottingham Playhouse, a play that focuses on a Caribbean couple operating an illegal bar in the city on the eve of its 1958 race riots.

According to Matthew Xia, the play’s director, the critic Pat Ashworth had “dismissed the laughter of black elders [in the audience] as inappropriate”. Xia said it showed a “lack of awareness of cultural differences” and said it was “more evidence of needing more critics of colour”.

In 2014 several national newspaper critics made references to the appearance of Tara Erraught, the Irish mezzo soprano, who was starring in Glyndebourne Festival’s production of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. She was described variously as “a chubby bundle of puppy fat”, “stocky”, “dumpy” and as having an “intractable physique”.

Fellow opera singers accused the reviews of concentrating on physique and looks rather than singing.

Coughlan, who describes herself on her Twitter profile as a “small Irish acting person”, said the apology was “tepid”. She added: “I will accept it if going forward you realise why it was so offensive and never review another woman’s body again.”

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