Griffin Theatre’s latest local premier is of Melissa Bubnic’s play, ‘Beached’, directed by Shannon Murphy. ‘Beached’ explores a grossly overweight teenage boy, Arty (Blake Davis), his feeder mum JoJo (Gia Carides), his Pathway’s mentor Louise (Kate Mulvany) and the reality unmasking of Arty's world as captured in the show ‘Shocking Fat Stories’ by the producer (Arka Das). The show counts down the days until Arty’s gastric bypass surgery and unravels Arty's relationships, identity, hopes and fears and those of the other characters in this story.
I found this play very engaging and appreciated the attempt to use a medium now so prominent in the entertainment industry- complete with its manipulation of ‘reality’ itself through a quick edit, a staged scene and capturing or manufacturing the truly private moments we encounter. Bubnic’s play is a great vehicle to explore this taboo topic and polarising for society at large (excuse the pun).
The production still fell some way from being perfect but I did enjoy it and most of its audience seemed to as well. However, I found myself wishing the production played less with the superficiality of the characters as I think the writing offered more dimensions than the production suggested. Of course, I know it’s ‘reality’ television so I understand the point that’s being made- but in those moments when the camera is ‘off’, the real reality of the illusion of theatre can exist! I think if Murphy had pushed the ‘truth’ or belief of each of the character’s predicament, it would have punched way above its weight (excuse the pun).
Gia Carides was a strong casting choice in this play and I think she tried to find the light and shade of JoJo’s intentions but the directorial choice in heightening the absurdity of situation, especially in regards to the public demonization of the obese, meant that Carides couldn’t push too far without looking out of place. Bubnic evocatively writes about this in her notes and it feels like Murphy didn’t quite get there in this production.
But Murphy did make some fine comic choices as Kate Mulvany captured in her physical and vocal expressiveness of Louise throughout the show. ‘Beached’ does have some wonderfully funny moments and the play certainly allows for that. Unfortunately Davis, who has a genuine niceness exude from his every pore, was never really believable as understanding what it must be like to be morbidly obese. It’s a hard ask to imagine being trapped inside your own body and to have no control over the response of people’s public disgust towards it. So I understand what an obstacle this presents for a director in plunging for depth and conviction so it is easier to play for laughs and allow us to empathise based on the sweetness of Davis’ interpretation of Arty.
Clever design of the stage by James Browne made for hidden places to be captured by manipulating the use of camera and meant that every part of the stage (and off stage) were potential spaces of action. I thought the use of the fat suit rolling bean bag was incredibly inventive and although distracted by the moving of the scaffolding at times, it meant that even a slight shift opened up a new angle and way of seeing things. There was also the dilemma of whether to watch the actor through the lens or on stage. What an interesting choice to be given. Consequently it seemed as if we prefer the comfort of the close up instead of relying on the bigger picture unfolding in front of us.
‘Beached’ is worth watching and the younger demographic will especially enjoy the medium and satire of the reality genre and its familiar form used in this clever way. And the play did inspire me to roll along to the gym the next day so there’s something to be said for that (excuse the pun).