Playing the world’s fattest teenager may not seem an appealing rôle for a young actor but for James Dryden the chance to appear in the European première of Beached was an opportunity too good to miss. As the show transfers from The Marlowe Theatre Canterbury to London’s Soho TheatreJames took time to speak to Glen Pearce about the show.
Beached is the story of Arty, the world’s fattest teenager. How would you describe the show to anyone who hasn’t seen it?
It’s very sad story but very funny as well, with a good mix of comedy and hard-hitting stuff. It’s really an old fashioned story of love and loneliness.
You spend a large part of the show confined to an armchair. Is it difficult to create the character when you are restricted in movement?
The hardest part is to stay energised. I’ll do my warm up and then sit there for 15 minutes as the audience come in. It’s trying to keep on the ball really as its quiet easy to become too relaxed. I needed to find a way of not just sitting back to keep the energy up. Its quiet easy to flip out!
How much research did you have to carry out into the morbidly super obese?
We did a lot of research in the rehearsal rooms, reading articles and watching videos. Sadly its quiet an easy to subject to find information on, perhaps there’s not as many people the same size as Arty but obesity is a big issue. A lot of the research in the rehearsal room was finding out how much someone would eat in a day, a lot of the facts are found in the play so it’s researching those.
This is the European premiere of Beached. How much has the show developed in rehearsal?
When we first started we spent three or four days sat around the table just reading the play. We had Melissa (the playwright) in the room in with us and we bounced ideas back and forth. Obviously Mel is from Australia and I’m from Blackburn so sometimes my character wouldn’t say things a certain way, so there were tweaks to lines. It was really fun to be part of that – being able to help mould something that’s not tried and tested. It’s nice to be able to have a bit of freedom to create a rôle for the first time.
As a young actor opportunities to work on a premiere piece must be important
It’s very important and it’s been completely different from my time in say The History boys. It keeps you on your toes a little bit and you have to think what you can bring to the rôle. I’m very lucky to be working on this and to work with a cast who have done a lot more than I have.
Arty is not entirely black and white – he can be seen as a victim but also responsible for his own fate. Is it important that people can relate to Arty as the victim?
There are a lot of people around him, like his mum, who do things to try and keep hold of him. He is like a victim but he still has to let the food pass his lips and still has to eat that food. That’s the environment we set up with his mum and the vulnerability. It is an addiction to food and anyone with an addiction is vulnerable so people can relate to that. That helps get people on Arty’s side.
The play mixes comedy with the serious – is it hard to achieve the right balance?
It does start out a very funny play and even at the end, when there’s some quite serious subjects, there are still lines that make you think ‘am I allowed to laugh at that?’. It’s tricky to get right but that’s where Justin (Audibert – the director) has crafted it to make certain things pop out. I think it’s down to the writing and the way the jokes are placed in the script. Mel’s way of exploring serious issues is through comedy and sometimes a bit of light hearted comedy in the middle of something so serious can help it hit home harder.
This has been the Marlowe Theatre’s first in house production. How has it been creating a show there?
Everyone’s been really nice and all hands on deck. When we got to the Marlowe we had to do a lot of work to ping things out to the back to expand it out but when we get to the Soho we’re going to have to work again to bring it back again to the different space. It’s helped keep it fresh and then it will change again a little bit for Soho so that’s been good. It’s also been good to see how an audience responds to it before it goes to London, especially as it’s the first time it’s been seen in Europe.
Arty spends much of the time daydreaming of another life and staring in his own adventure movie. If James Dryden could star in his own show what would it be?
I really love comedy so I’d love to be in a regular TV comedy. Perhaps something new like this so you could have input. I’ve had a really good time creating something new and something comic but I’d love to be able to do a regular sitcom.
How many cream cakes do you think you’ll have eaten by the end of the run?
I don’t actually eat that much in the show so perhaps its deceptive! I eat more than I should though and wouldn’t that amount daily normally. I have three or four profiterôles; one and half cream and jam doughnuts, a bite of a burger and some chips. We have about seven shows in Canterbury and 20 shows at Soho so loads – I’ll have to start running in the morning or something so I don’t turn into Arty! I’ll probably be fed up with them at the end so it could be a good thing as I’ll never want to eat them again!
The Marlowe Theatre’s production of Beached runs at Soho Theatre until 23 November.Our review of Beached can be found here