Arabella Weir Does My Mum Loom Big In This?

Arabella Weir with a photo of herself with mum Alison

Arabella Weir with a photo of herself with mum Alison - Credit: Archant

The Crouch End comic lays bare her dysfunctional childhood and relationship with her mum in her first ever stand up show

If I feel a bit nervous about asking Arabella Weir to re-live her mother's cruel jibes it turns out I needn't have worried.

"I don't know whether it's painful any more, I've worked through it," says the Crouch End comic.

"It won't surprise you to know I've had a lot of therapy."

Not only is Weir made of sterner stuff, but she's laying it all out there for her first ever stand up show "telling stories from the coalface of my dysfunctional childhood."

The 62-year-old has joked that she's "monetising" her maternal dysfunction for Does My Mum Loom Big in This? and that she "had to kill her off to do the show"

But it seems in all ways that the timing's right for the Fast Show and Two Doors Down star to grab a mic and go it alone. Not only does she now have license to speak ill of the dead, but as she says: "I'm single, my kids are at university, this is exactly the right time for me to do it. I am going to grab it with both hands."

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After years of screen work and communal sketch formats, going solo has been "terrifying and wonderful."

"It's been gladiatorial but I am very proud of myself. I love the energy from a room of people laughing, and I feel so lucky to have this opportunity. I am stuffing my face with it."

The show, which she took to Edinburgh, is about "mothers and mothering" and in it she not only unpicks her relationship with her mum but describes how that impacted her own parenting.

"I think it will resonate," says Weir. "Of course I always imagined everyone else had a perfect childhood, that turns out not to be the case."

The irony is that Weir grew up a child of privilege. Her father was a British ambassador posted to Washington, Bahrain and Cairo, and her mother Alison hailed from a well off background. They divorced when she was nine and Weir has described that time as a "free for all" with no regular meals or affection.

"When I was nine I asked my mother 'what is there to eat?' and she said 'how the f*** should I know?'

"It's not slagging off my mum," she adds. "And it's not a misery fest. It's more defiant than that. I talk about where she came from, her own dysfunctional childhood, how she was frustrated, over educated and ill equipped to be a mother.

"If you view mothering as a job, then an awful lot of it is a daily grind. My mother's generation didn't feel entitled to share with each other if they found it difficult. You just got on with it. There's nothing like motherhood for making you feel you are failing, but not to be able to complain or say 'this is hard, I am struggling, must have been isolating."

Both Weir's parents would comment on her weight, but it was her mother's particular jesting cruelty that cut deep.

"It was constant criticism, name calling and competitive undermining - I warn the audience some of it is shocking. She would say 'no-one will want you darling because you are fat'.

"As a young actress if I was preparing to go to an audition she would wait until the last minute and say 'oh my God you are not going to wear that, you look like a great tube of blue bread'.

Alison would pass off this cruelty as a joke and say 'I'm teasing'.

"Her excuse was that it was funny, my dad once said: 'rowing is meat and drink to mum, she thought it was sport."

Making an effort to understand her behaviour has helped to contextualise it.

"She didn't choose to be a bad mother, she was unsuited to it and wasn't coping, but one thing I do call her to account for is she was highly intelligent and from a class that, had she decided to haul herself up, she could have."

Weir famously poured her body issues into her Fast Show character 'Insecure Woman' whose catchphrase was 'does my bum look big in this?' She adds.

"Being around my mum made me realise that when you want to make a joke, it had better be a proper one, something well crafted, it's not comedy to make someone feel bad and get everyone to fall about. I don't make comedy at the expense of others."

In the second half, she talks about "me as a mother completely perfect in every way!"

Has she ever caught herself behaving like her own mum?

"No!" is the emphatic reply.

"I had a lot of therapy and I was thrilled to become a mother, but I was much happier and more fulfilled than my mother. It never occured to me to do anything other than love and protect them. The idea of making these precious people feel bad about about anything was totally alien to me."

Rest assured though, she does embarrass her son and daughter "terribly".

"I do a bit of dancing to Drake the rapper that's the last word in child abuse. But I am sorry get over yourselves. I want to carve out a position for myself as a woman with rights and entitlements. I say to them, 'your mother makes a living as a comedian not a librarian with a veil, this is the mother you got, get over it'."

Bridget Galton

Does My Mum Loom Big In This? is at Leicester Square Theatre February 21 and 22.