Balancing the scales for the big day.

I’ve had my own adventures in couture lately, and on a visit to my own couturier, I heard about Made to Measure. My designer, Santina from Santina Collezione was one of the inspirations for the dressmaker, Monica, played by Tracy Mann – just one designer playwright Alana Valentine was inspired by, Santina insists. For me, the visit to the couturier was not wedding related so I was exposed to a different aspect of the atelier but it was an interesting experience and I was keen for more. Seeing the play was a fascinating insight into people’s stories, mainly told from the couturier’s point of view and experience.

Monica is a designer who has been around a long time and has seen a lot of brides. She knows the bride mentality, the types of brides who visit a couturier, and their typical reactions to a wedding.

She finds bride-to-be Ashleigh (Megan Wilding) sitting on her doorstep. Soon Ashleigh is inside her studio commissioning Monica to make the wedding dress of her dreams.

The commission is not without complication. Ashleigh is obese and she struggles with her interpretation of people’s reactions to her, including Monica’s. She reinterprets words and actions with those she feels are the unspoken criticisms of overweight people.

Coming from the designer angle, Monica, who sees all sorts of brides, tries to inspire Ashleigh to lose weight with anecdotes about other brides-to-be who have lost weight for their wedding through sheer willpower,  and turned their lives around. Monica never really knows what happens after the big day – her role ends at that moment.

Ashleigh is reassured by Monica’s promises that the process will celebrate Ashleigh and fill her with confidence, but Ashleigh’s outward assurance masks internal conflict and doubt. Sam O’Sullivan deftly plays multiple roles – her food deliverer, personal trainer,  fiancé Bryce, and her ugly internal voice. The play is cleverly and stylishly staged with a fluidity of characters and emotions.

As Ashleigh, Wilding owns the role – she is strong, vulnerable and delivers a visceral performance as a woman at her happiest and also most nerve-wracking moments. Each bride has their own story, each wants to look a certain way, and it is up to the designer to allow them that pleasure. A designer wants their work to be the showpiece of the wedding and they know just how important the dress is in giving the bride her confidence.

Tracy Mann is a delight to see again and her clothes are so perfect for her role – I lusted after every blouse, jacket, and even the shoes she wore. Kudos to designer Melanie Liertz.

As Ashleigh’s wedding approaches, both client and designer become emotionally fraught as each deals with her own issues – at home and with body insecurity and health limitations. There’s an added layer of pressure with the complication of societal prejudice against people who are overweight.

Drawing on interviews with designers, brides, and health-based scientists, Made to Measure is full of Valentine’s hallmark authenticity, empathy, and humour. The dialogue is witty with many laughs and with another character or two, the play would be appealing to a wider audience on a larger stage. I look forward to seeing more from Valentine and I look forward to my next visit to Santina where I want to hear more about her clients – although I do appreciate the sanctity of the client to designer relationship.

Made to Measure was commissioned by the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, dedicated to easing the world’s lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and related conditions. Made to Measure gives voice to the body positive community whilst exploring the science behind the effect of weight on our health.

Feature image via Seymour Centre.