Griffin Theatre, July 24. Until August 31

At the soft centre of Melissa Bubnic’s play sits Arthur. He’s 18, he’s smart, he’s innocent and he’s dying.

Blake Davis and Kate Mulvany (pic by Brett Boardman)

Weighing in at 400kg, Arty is “the world’s heaviest teenager” and he is in a double bind, suffocating in a destructively co-dependent relationship with his mother, and trapped in his own enormous body.
He must lose weight and fast, which makes him an ideal candidate for Shocking Fat Stories, a fly-on-the-wall reality show offering life-changing (though potentially deadly) gastric bypass surgery in exchange for unfettered access to his predicament.

Meanwhile, Arthur has also come to the attention of Centrelink, who dispatch Louise, a mousy yet determined Pathways-to-work officer, on what would appear to be a doomed mission to get this boy off disability benefits.

The tone is pointedly satirical at first. Bubnic’s portrayal of Arty’s deal with the devil of prurient public interest is astute, likewise her portrait of a twisted mother-son bond. Her humour is vigorous and dark and she certainly knows how to tickle the disgust reflex. 

But Bubnic also wants us to care about Arty and the weeks and days tick down to his bypass operation, Beached begins to take on the flavour of a moral sitcom, with Arty as the inspirationally disadvantaged man-child whose incorruptible goodness of heart is a lesson to all.

Shannon Murphy’s sharp, technology-heavy production and the tightly framed performances she draws from her cast allows this tonal transition to just about succeed. Kate Mulvany is terrific as the brittle Louise, who is in her way, as shut-in as Arty and Gia Carides snaps and snarls as Arty’s aggressively devoted mum (a K-Mart Sharon Osbourne, if you will). Arka Das is perfectly disagreeable as the TV show’s producer and even more so as a superstar gastroenterologist for whom carving up “porkers” is better than sex.

Buried in a bean bag-like costume for the greater part of the play, Blake Davis does well to capture Arty’s gentleness and his slow-dawning desperation.

Beached left me somewhat uplifted and well entertained, but wondering what might have been had Bubnic stuck the knife in a little deeper. At a time when body mass index is becoming a de facto measure of moral worth, Arty’s plight makes us pause for thought, but not much more. 

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