Whether it’s politically correct or not, human beings can’t seem to resist a freak show.
From the carnivals and curiosities of the Victorian era to the Kardashians of today, we are fascinated by human oddities and struggle to look away.
‘MARIEDL, Selfies with a Giantess’ is a new interactive, one-woman show premiering in Canberra this weekend that tells the story of Austrian woman Maria Fassnauer, known as ‘Mariedl, the Tyrolean Giantess’.
Award-winning Austrian-Australian actor Maxi Blaha will perform the show in English for the first time and explained that it was Mariedl’s Australian connection that prompted her to bring the show down under.
“She toured all over Europe back in the early 20th century and she was very famous in Great Britain,” she said.
“In the English archives, there was a lot of information about her, and that’s where we also found out that there was this Australian giant called Clive Darril from Wagga Wagga.
“He followed her all over Europe and made a marriage proposal to her and she turned him down. So we decided that I had to bring her to Australia.”
While it is difficult to calculate her height, something that promoters routinely exaggerated, she was dubbed ‘The Tallest Woman in the World’ and stood well over two metres.
“She had this illness called acromegaly or pituitary gigantism, which is caused by a tumour on your pituitary gland and this leads to an excessive amount of growth hormone,” Maxi said.
“Nowadays, this is easily detected and operated on and people don’t grow that much anymore.”
A shy and deeply religious Roman Catholic, Mariedl was uncomfortable in the limelight as she was exhibited in packed-out areas and her image was sold on thousands of souvenir postcards.
Despite being essentially sold to carnival promoters by her impoverished family, Mariedl managed to reclaim power over her situation.
“What made her so interesting to me was that she turned it all around when she changed management,” Maxi said.
“She secured watertight contracts that allowed her to travel with her sister and she became the first to give testimonials for very well known brands like Oxo and Humber cars.
“She took control and became very, very wealthy, and it reminded me of the influencers on social media today.”
Our ongoing obsession with the unusual and the way the freak show has translated to our 21st century digital lives is one of the key themes explored in the show.
“When you think about the internet and Instagram and TikTok, it’s full of modern freaks I would say,” Maxi explained.
“The way Mariedl did it reminded me of the Kardashians and all these influencers who also are in control of their appearances and their strange bodies and they make money out of it.
“People could pay to watch her eat. Every Thursday in a different city she would do ‘performance eatings’. Crazy!”
In Mariedl, Selfies with a Giantess, Maxi engages with the audience through digital media and puts a modern twist on the postcards Mariedl would sell.
“I’m using this means of the mobile phone and we are taking photos of me and group photos during the performance,” Maxi said.
“We also gave her her own Instagram account and she’s on Tik Tok and people can ask me questions through the phone during the show,” she said.
Maxi is looking forward to sharing this unique story with Australian Audiences in Canberra and Melbourne before taking the show to London.
She said it posed some uncomfortable questions about 21st century life.
“There’s two sides of being on the pedestal and being looked at. On the one hand, you’re the star and everybody is staring at you and applauding and on the other hand the price of success can be very lonely and humiliating,” Maxi explained.
“I also ask – what is a freak? How and why do we categorise people?
“I find this very interesting in these days where everybody seems to be so open-minded and PC [politically correct].”
Mariedl, Selfies with a Giantess is showing at Canberra’s The Street Theatre on 24, 25 and 26 November before continuing on to the Butterfly Club in Melbourne the following week.