Arabella Weir’s mother wasn’t exactly the nurturing type. But out of teenage trauma can come reflective comedy gold

Words CRAIG McLEAN

Arabella Weir’s first Fringe production is already, surely, a winner. If there’s a show with a better, funnier, smarter title than Does My Mum Loom Big in This?, we’ve yet to hear it.

It’s obviously a pun on the legendary catchphrase, “Does my bum look big in this?” that the actress and writer created for her neurotic character on the BBC’s Fast Show sketch series, but the one-woman show is more than an easy play on words or routine cash-in on telly celebrity.

Does My Mum… is the story of Weir’s dysfunctional upbringing and the damage it wrought on her teenage and adult self. As you’d expect from the very funny woman we also know from TV shows like Posh Nosh and Two Doors Down, it’s hilarious.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Weir admits, “because I had a very… tumultuous relationship with my mother. She was in no way, shape or form equipped to be a mother, and nor did she wish to be a mother.”

Her parents were both Scottish (dad from Dunfermline, mum from Melrose, “and of reasonably grand stock”), the latter so otherworldly by dint of privilege and education that she was insulated from earthbound concerns like paying for things. “One of my favourite stories, which isn’t in the show, is that she’d never seen the item nor heard the word ‘money’ until she went to university.”

So, as a mother, Alison Weir wasn’t what we’d call a nurturer? “Oh my God, no!” the 61-year-old hoots. “She was neglectful, verbally abusive, verbally violent.” Her husband’s job didn’t help. Sir Michael Weir was a diplomat, which explains why Arabella was born in the US and had an early childhood bouncing between there, Egypt, Bahrain and the UK.

“The awful thing about being a diplomat’s
wife is, what do you do? It’s two years in Kuwait –
great, so you go to some art galleries and maybe do some good works, but you have to be careful because of the political situation. Then it’s two years in Azerbaijan. He’s having a great time with the local politicians, and you’re supposed to host nice dinner parties, look slim, and not go: ‘I don’t f*cking feel like it.’

“Added to that, my dad was a Fifer.
The idea of speaking to him about your feelings – well, he wouldn’t have known

what you were talking about.”

Her parents stopped living together when she was eight – not that they bothered telling their daughter. Her father simply moved to Bahrain, his next posting, and when young Arabella asked where he was, her mother replied: “F*ck off.”

All of which, understandably, messed her up. As a young actress, she admits she was promiscuous, a party girl, someone who’d sabotage auditions and jobs. But her combative spirit, fierce intelligence and sharp wit – not to mention therapy in her early thirties – saved her.

All of which has enabled Weir to alchemise some pitch-dark life stories into comedy gold. Even sitting in her north London kitchen on a rainy morning, her ‘performance’ of these episodes is spill-your-tea funny. Her way with Scottish (and Irish) accents, and her riffs on her lifelong issues with weight – weaponised by her parents – are side-splitting.

“They were both Oxbridge, both incredibly competitive – and winners don’t have fat kids. So they didn’t know what to do with me.”

Right up until the end, her mother enjoyed going on about Arabella’s weight, no matter how big or small she was. Eleven years ago, when her mother was just a few days away from death, Weir spent a bank holiday weekend in hospital with her. She took in her favourite sandwich from Pret, Coronation Chicken. Mother’s first response: “OH, GOOD GOD! THE MAYONNAISE! HAVE YOU ANY IDEA? THE CALORIES!”

“And I replied: ‘Ah, but Mum, you’re dying…’

‘Oh, but look at you! I can’t bear to look at you eating that!’

Her daughter had but one reply: ‘Oh, Mum, get over yourself.’

That’s exactly what Arabella Weir will be doing, brilliantly and unmissably, in Edinburgh this summer.

WHERE & WHEN

Does My Mum Loom Big in This? Assembly George Square Studios – Two, 12-25 August, 4pm, from £12, assemblyfestival.com

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