Beached | Griffin Theatre CompanyLeft – Blake Davis and Kate Mulvany. Cover – Blake Davis. Photos – Brett Boardman

The notion of writing a play about television is one I find very interesting. When I read the blurb for Beached, I was intrigued as how they were going to realise the concept – a play based round the construct of a reality TV show – within a theatrical context. I was a little concerned that it wouldn’t work, this exploration of one medium within the form of another. I shouldn’t have worried. Writer Melissa Bubnic and director Shannon Murphy have given us a genuinely outstanding show, from the structure down to the detail.

Beached follows the story of Artie (Blake Davis), a morbidly obese 18 year old. He is the fattest teenager in the world and is so gargantuan he can barely do anything: his mother Joanne (Gia Carides) sees to all his needs. He is being featured on Shocking Fat Stories, a reality TV show, which follow his journey as he works towards being ready for gastric bypass surgery. In the process, he meets Louise, his buttoned-up Centrelink caseworker (Kate Mulvany), and has his life invaded and essentially dictated by the producer (Arka Das), who routinely manipulates situations to make him look more grotesque and pitiable.

What I loved about the show is that, despite the best efforts of the reality TV show, Beached itself never makes Artie an object of pity. It treats him as a person – a person whose hopes and dreams have been limited, but not necessarily just by his weight. Beached penetrates beyond the fat into Artie’s psyche: we see how he is simultaneously smothered by his mother’s affection and desperately lonely, how clever he is and how unworldly, and we repeatedly see what his life looks like beyond his weight, in his mind. Artie’s body becomes a fat suit that actor Davis can actually take off as we get a window into his dreams. The one truth that the producer speaks throughout the whole show (even though it is intended as manipulation) comes when he tells Artie that no one dreams of being ordinary. Artie is extraordinary by virtue of his weight, but we see him begin to dream of a new kind of extraordinariness.

This is a brilliantly cast show. Kate Mulvany is the standout as Louise: the way she portrays Louise’s awkwardness, nervousness, and desire for complete control over every aspect of her life is just fantastic. Through Mulvany’s performance, we realise that Louise is just as crippled as Artie, although it doesn’t always outwardly show. This is also true of Artie’s mother, who will do anything to keep her son not only safe but safe with her, and this role is absolutely owned by Gia Carides. Blake Davis as Artie and Arka Das as the producer (as well as a memorable turn as the gastric bypass surgeon) are also fantastic. The show is worth seeing for the performances alone.

When you walk into the theatre, the set looks quite unwieldly: a mess of scaffolding and lights, all surrounding a giant peach bean bag, eventually revealed to be Artie’s corpulent body. Considering the shape and size of the Griffin stage, I thought the set would obstruct the view of much of the audience. I was wrong. This show uses multimedia better than any show I have ever seen. The reality TV staple of the talking head is employed regularly, broadcast on two screens on either side of the stage. There are few scenes in Artie's life that are not filmed, and the constant presence of the screens, the lights, and the cameras make us all too aware of this. Beached uses some fairly Brechtian techniques – the producer constantly narrating the cuts and crossfades, for example – never letting us forget that in one sense, Artie's whole life is a construct, that he is being painted as a voracious consumer for an audience who are voraciously consuming his life. The way this show engages with reality TV is so, so clever, at once satiric and poignant. (The scene with the uplifting music and the confetti falling from the ceiling is an especially good example of this. I don't want to spoil what happens, but it is so tragically typically reality TV.)

The ending of Beached felt a little pat, but I don't really think there was a way for it to end that was neither pat nor terribly sad – and, after all, neat endings tied up with a bow are part and parcel of the reality TV machine. Beached is really fabulous theatre: unusual, incisive, and touching. Not to be missed.

Griffin Theatre Company presents
by Melissa Bubnic

Directed by Shannon Murphy

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre, 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross
Dates: 26 July – 31 August, 2013
Tickets: $49 – $32
Bookings: 02 9361 3817 |

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