Jessica Fostekew: Hench (4 stars)

This article is from 2019

Jessica Fostekew: Hench

credit: Idil Sukan

Strong show about language, gender and Nordic walking

When Jessica Fostekew was harassed at her local gym and called a 'hench', she decided to take assertive action in the only way she could possibly think of: she wrote an excellent Fringe show about it. If you were called 'hench', chances are you might have to look up the word. Those who frequent the world of personal trainers and body building will know that this is a technical term for someone who has well-developed muscles. And is a man.

So this Hench has Fostekew darting from subject to subject with agility and skill, discussing feminist flirting (very different from the toxically masculine variety), the cult of Nordic walking which has ensnared her mother (whose unofficial motto is 'grace and composure' resulting in occasional conflict with her offspring), and the ways in which her son has established himself as a three-year-old sexist.

Language and gender stereotyping are at the core of this show, with one of her son's grandads being a firm example of a man for whom blue is for boys and pink is for girls. Fostekew largely has to bite her tongue on how this might be shaping her son, but she's more outspoken on the diet industry and the hypocritical attitudes shown towards athlete Caster Semenya (she's still having legal battles about her testosterone levels) when compared to the non-issue of swimmer Michael Phelps' atypical biology (he's an Olympic hero, pure and simple).

A show for different comedy tastes, when things get too thinky, there's always the hysterical grand guignol sequence about her giving birth to keep the other constituency happy. After a fine run of shows, Jessica Fostekew is ramping up the quality, and for this Fringe she proves to be as much of a powerhouse on stage as she is on a squat bench.

Monkey Barrel, until 25 Aug (not 12), 1.30pm, £5 in advance or donations at the venue.

Jessica Fostekew: Hench

The host of The Guilty Feminist podcast talks about taking 'hench' as a compliment.