November 27, 2005

by Pete Morrison, Theatre Critic

Before Deb Filler’s latest one-woman show opened at the Ensemble, the theatre was already warning the public to book now, the season almost sold out. Good advice. Filler on a previous Sydney stint enjoyed packed houses with her Punch Me in the Stomach at the Belvoir Street Theatre; and Filler Up! has wowed ’em in Edinburgh, London, Toronto, Auckland, Washington and Berlin. It will tour Canada next year.

The new show is 80 minutes of delightful comedy which has universal appeal. Basically, it is about being overweight, overeating and unsuccessful attempts to cure the malady. The material ranges through snippets of the lives and often hilariously funny idiosyncrasies of characters Deb has been involved with (well, part fact, part fiction) and their impact on her life, particularly in New Zealand and America.

Filler is a brilliant writer (she scripted this show along with Lowry Marshall, also an accomplished director). And as a performer she is nothing short of great, with an almost uncanny talent for accents, speaking styles and visual characterization. As herself she appears to be a warm and engaging but un-theatrical person with just a hint of New Zilland vowel sounds. Necessarily for this show, she is of ample but not unattractive figure. You accept uncritically that she has a long history of battling bulges, out of which come many of the laughs.

There is a cornucopia of added ingredients to Filler Up!, including the ploy of baking a challah in a microwave and offering it to the audience when she is through talking, acting and (even) singing.

And there is a rich Jewish flavour to the whole show. It is packed with keen observation and more than a little caricaturing, but also it is served with wholesome, neither cloying nor overly sentimentalised sauces of family values, along with revelatory glimpses of her father’s Holocaust and post liberation experiences.

The show is deftly directed by Eda Holmes, with minimal but essential use of props. Tim Mascall’s lighting design is likewise enhancing, but unobtrusive.