Beached: review

Blake Davis and Kate Mulvany. Photo: Brett Boardman

Blake Davis and Kate Mulvany. Photo: Brett Boardman

Arty (Blake Davis) is a sweet but morbidly obese teenager who dreams of being an explorer or a handsome movie star. In reality, he is marooned like a beached whale at home with his bogan mother JoJo (Gia Carides) who keeps him well fed as a result of her own personal issues.

In order to pay for life-saving gastric surgery, they agree to go on a reality TV show called Shocking Fat Stories where Arty’s struggle to lose enough weight to be able to undergo the operation is charted over 235 days.

And so into their home comes a ruthless, parasitic TV producer (Arka Das) and a stitched-up Pathways to Work CentreLink officer called Louise (Kate Mulvany) whose idea of a bright future for Arty is an office job and a tax file number.

With obesity on the rise and reality TV dominating the ratings, Melissa Bubnic’s black comedy Beached is a timely piece but it doesn’t get to grips with the issues it raises in any serious, in-depth way.

Though the play won the 2010 Patrick White Playwrights’ Award, it still needs work if it is to really hit home. As it is, the characters are one-dimensional and the plot superficial.

The script is full of gags (many of them cheap, some downright gross) but the satire isn’t sharp or clever enough to really shock so the play – particularly the reality TV aspect – comes across as a rather glib parody.

The co-dependent relationship between Arty and his mother could be fascinating but the reason given for JoJo’s compulsive feeding of her son is simplistic in the extreme.

Shannon Murphy directs an ambitious production for Griffin Theatre Company using cameras operated by the hard-working cast of four so that they are seen “live” and on screen.

Mulvany delivers a richly detailed and very funny performance as Louise: an uptight, daggy character whom she evokes with an array of nervous tics and lank hair. But it stretches believability that someone with so many insecurities and personal issues of their own would be employed in such a job – or that she would start a relationship with Arty.

Carides also gives a strong, layered performance as the loving but manipulative JoJo, doing all she can to make her real, while Davis exudes a lovely boyish innocence as Arty – though he is so sprightly and skinny it seems slightly odd for a character who supposedly tips the scales at 400 kg.

Of course, no-one is expecting naturalism here. Murphy and designer James Browne portray Arty as part of the brown, fleshy chair on which he sprawls, inserting Davis into it. It’s a nice idea but doesn’t look terribly effective in practice.

As for the TV producer, he is so crudely and predictably drawn that Das has little to work with but he brings a hard-edged energy to the role.

And so, despite the best efforts of the cast, Beached feels just that. Bubnic certainly raises some interesting, hefty (excuse the pun) ideas and the acting is enjoyable – particularly from Mulvany and Carides – but ultimately Beached feels lightweight.

Beached runs at the SBW Stables Theatre until August 31.

An edited version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on August 4.

Gia Carides: interview

Gia Carides in rehearsals for Beached

Gia Carides in rehearsals for Beached

It’s been over a decade since Gia Carides last performed in a full-length play.

But the actor who is best known for her roles in the films Strictly Ballroom, My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, is about to make her return to the stage in Beached by Melissa Bubnic for Griffin Theatre Company.

“I did a play in Tribeca, New York (called) Rocket to the Moon just before I had my daughter and she’s ten now so it will be 11 years since I did a full play,” says Carides who lives in Los Angeles with her actor husband Anthony LaPaglia and their daughter Bridget.

“When she was small, the idea of doing theatre and missing bedtime every night wasn’t right but it feels fine now; she’s independent enough.”

In the interim, as well as appearing on television, Carides has done a lot of radio plays in LA and a few months ago performed there in a short play as part of an evening of comedy shorts.

“It was amazing to be on stage again,” she says. “But this is a full play and I’m very excited that it’s Griffin. I did my first play there when I was 14; a play called Dancing Partners. The next time I worked at the Stables was to originate the role of (the teacher) Papa in The Heartbreak Kid. Then I did a production of Michael Gow’s The Kid.

“So I did a bunch of work there in the late 80s and very early 90s, so it’s a lovely to be back.”

Beached, which won the 2010 Patrick White Playwrights’ Award, centres on a massively obese teenager called Arthur, who tips the scales at over 400 kilograms. Requiring a life-saving gastric bypass, he and his mother agree to go on a reality TV show in return for the all-expenses-paid surgery.

Carides plays his protective mother. “My character is kind of enabling this unhealthy life her son has been living. She is certainly not doing this on purpose. She loves her son very much but she is not realising what damage she is doing,” she says.

“The play is definitely about (obesity) but it’s also about reality TV. The family are victims of a reality TV show as much as Arthur is a victim of his obesity.”

The cast also includes Blake Davis as Arthur, Arka Das as the television producer and Kate Mulvany as a CentreLink ‘Pathways to Work’ Officer.

“They are really incredible actors and Shannon Murphy (the director) is a force – she’s so strong and so clever and so smart – and it’s just fantastic to be working with a young, female director. So I love the fact that I’m back with all these ‘youngsters’ who are all so talented,” says Carides smiling.

“It’s a black comedy but definitely has very moving moments as we get inside the heads of all four characters.”

Gia Carides in rehearsals for Beached

Gia Carides in rehearsals for Beached

As for how they will portray Arthur’s obesity, Murphy wants the company to keep that secret – and hopes that reviewers will refrain from giving it away so that it is a surprise for audiences. However, she doesn’t mind revealing that they are using cameras.

“I don’t want to spoil anything but are we are working with film so it’s very ambitious,” says Carides. “We are operating cameras, we are acting live within the scene and acting for the camera so there is a lot going on.”

Approached about the play by an email from Murphy, Carides says she loved the play as soon as she read it and was keen to work with Murphy, who she knows, describing her as “an extraordinary young director, definitely one to watch”.

As luck would have it the season coincided with Bridget’s school summer holidays.

“I grew up here so coming back to Australia for any work is always a really appealing idea,” she says.

Last time she was back she appeared in the 2011 TV drama series Small Time Gangster and in 2008 spent time in Byron Bay working on East of Everything.

“My daughter wasn’t in proper school yet at that point so it suited us as a family,” she says.

“Sometimes my husband will have work that fits into that time frame too so we’ll come out as a family and he’ll do that work. So we really just take it case by case (depending on) whoever gets offered what/when and we just try to work it out.”

Beached plays at the SBW Stables Theatre, July 19 – August 31. Bookings: 9361 8817 or

An edited version of this story appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on July 7