Emma Geraghty has made herself at home: the sofa cushions are bright, tea’s on hand and there’s a bottle of tequila waiting for us all to get to know one another better. Sascha Gilmour’s set design draws attention to the strong, body-positive literature on the coffee table: the beaming pink font on Dumplin’s spine reflects Geraghty’s brilliantly warm and welcoming attitude, her devil-may-care approach to identifying as fat and queer and a woman, and what? Geraghty’s a woman who owns her room, inviting us to enjoy her music and a plate of biscuits, but this isn’t the only side of her we see. Geraghty’s unafraid to show the socially unpalatable side of being overweight, especially being seen as such. The inclusion of Roxane Gay’s Hunger in that aspirational pile of light reads hints at as much, the pain of owning your body in a world that wants you smaller than ever.
As could be expected from the title, music punctuates the show and in particular roots Geraghty to chapters of her life. David Newman’s Matilda suite brings a young Emma onto the stage, and P!nk’s ‘Family Portrait’ plants a searing spotlight on her teenage self. It’s interesting to see how Geraghty’s family dynamic shifts: within a decade she goes from being the only child, to the oldest of four – enter teen rebellion. Geraghty references her mother a time or two, recalling how she’d mumble lyrics that might be hurtful to her parents. There’s a hint of the same strained relationship in Geragthy’s original songs. “Are you proud of me now, Ma?” she asks, never giving forth on what exactly sits between mother and daughter. We’re not allowed to see beyond Geraghty’s affinity for misunderstood women in her youth, though in doing so the spotlight stays firmly on the performer.
Geraghty seems unwilling to dump her past trauma on us in one go, opting instead for a gradual reveal of anecdotes and tales which further intimates the level of friendship into which she’s inviting her audience. Discussing the quiet misogyny of doctor’s offices, family tensions, and disastrous dating mishaps, the show doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to harsher subject matter. The plus side is that Geraghty relates these stories with an unflappable sense of humour. “I kept it,” she says of a floaty dress a size too small, that haunts her wardrobe and taunts at the societal pressure to lose weight in order to welcome happiness, “waiting for a man to sweep me into a cliche – but it turns out I’m a lot gayer than I used to be.” Man! That turn of phrase, her casual punchline! And all the while she’s playing an absolutely heartbreaker of a song that she wrote herself! I wouldn’t know what was wrong with you if you weren’t in awe of Geraghty at this exact moment.
This window into Geraghty’s life and work closes quickly. Ending fifty minutes in, you feel a little robbed of more time to explore Geraghty’s world or hear another of the songs she penned. The three we do hear are incredibly diverse: one invokes early KT Tunstall with plenty of earnest strumming and guitar-drumming, the next brims with the inner conflict of aspirational self-hate and body dysmorphia. That Geraghty chooses to sing a number from the Netflix show Big Mouth instead implies she’s still finding the words to stage that final big song-and-dance of body positivity. We’re all works in progress, after all- and Geraghty’s progress is something I look forward to following.