The Marlowe Theatre brings Melissa Bubonic’s Beached to the Soho Theatre, and whilst it proves entertaining and thought-provoking, it is not quite probing enough to leave much of a lasting impression. The show’s information on the programme states “but with the cameras rolling, something totally unexpected happens - Arty falls in love”. So it’s not all that unexpected then.
Arty is the world’s fattest teenager at sixty-seven stone, played charmingly by James Dryden. He hasn’t moved in years, and is piling on the pounds. A reality TV crew move in and document his journey towards getting a gastric bypass. Along the way, he falls in love, and discovers a few uncomfortable truths.
After a slow first half hour, Arty’s relationship with his Pathways to Work Officer, Louise, begins to blossom. Dryden’s gradual transition into a more confident man is touching, and he connects with Alison O’Donnell’s Louise well. Meanwhile, Robin Weaver shows a wonderfully maternal JoJo, Arty’s mother. Arty learns that his mother has been sabotaging his weight-loss, but it’s a shame that more isn’t made of the break-up in their relationship, especially after following it for so long.
The reality TV show context feels slightly uncomfortably shoehorned, almost a distraction and an excuse for an extra character. The implications of reality TV that are portrayed are cliched and superficial. Rhoda Ofori-Attah provides some moving moments as the Producer, but it generally feels a little jarring - the piece hints at media manipulation, but it’s so slight that it’s sadly not really worth being there.
Justin Audibert’s direction brings out the comedy well whilst retaining the seriousness of the script, and it manages the multi-rolling well. What the piece lacks is gravitas. It scratches the surface of a number of real issues, but fails to explore them enough to make it worthwhile.
Beached runs at the Soho Theatre until 23rd November 2014