Beached: an interview with actor James Dryden

James Dryden as Arty during Beached rehearsals. Photo by Ludovic des Cognets.

James Dryden as Arty during Beached rehearsals. Photo by Ludovic des Cognets.

With just a few days to go until the premiere of our homegrown dark comedy Beached, we had a quick chat with the brilliant actor playing lead character Arty – James Dryden.

What did you first think when reading the script?

I thought, “they do know I’m not 67 stone right!”. I was also genuinely excited about the prospect of being a part of it. I love a good dark comedy and this ticked all the boxes for me.

Tell us about Arty.

Arty is lovely. He is a 67 stone 18-year-old who seems to be quite happy plodding along with life as it is living with his mum. Throughout the course of the play he realises that he perhaps wants to change the way he lives his life in order to be a “human being”. I think Arty is a gentleman.

How do you feel about, and how have you prepared, for playing Arty?

I feel very excited to be playing the role of Arty. It is a big challenge having to be sat down for most of the play as I need to keep my energy up. I suppose I’ve been preparing myself by having to eat lots and lots of cream buns and chocolate eclairs (which is quite nice). I’ve got a feeling that I may need to renew my gym membership after the play ends…

Why should people come and see Beached?

It’s a great play, packed full of cracking scenes. It’s very funny and also very moving. It’s one of those plays that will get people talking afterwards and I think that that is important.

You can also read an interview with director Justin Audibert and an introduction to all our cast members.

Beached is at The Marlowe Studio from Tuesday 28 October to Saturday 1 November, and at Soho Theatre (Soho Upstairs) from Tuesday 4 to Sunday 23 November.

*The production contains adult themes and language.

Beached: an interview with director Justin Audibert

Cast in rehearsals

Robin Weaver, James Dryden, Justin Audibert (director), Alison O’Donnell and Rhoda Ofori-Attah.

In our previous blogpost we introduced you to the brilliant cast and director of Beached, the first play to be created by The Marlowe – premiering at The Marlowe Studio next week before a transfer to Soho Theatre.

We managed to sneak in during a break from rehearsals to find out more from director Justin Audibert.

What did you first think when reading the script?

The first thing that struck me on reading Beached was just how funny the script was. Mel writes some absolutely fantastic lines but what is so unusual about the piece from an emerging writer is that the humour shines through because it comes from a place of truth. You completely believe that the characters are fully rounded people inhabiting a real, if highly eccentric, world and you empathise with them in all their various dilemmas.

Mel sent me the script after seeing a play that I directed and from the moment I read the opening page I had that itch that made me really want to tackle it and bring this world to life.

Beached explores some sensitive issues in a darkly comic way – do you feel any pressures around that?

Beached is a big play – in many senses of the word. It explores obesity, addiction, dependency, pathology, voyeurism and manipulation by the media but above all else it is a play about love and loneliness. Everyone can relate to being lonely and most people can relate to what it feels like to love and be loved both in a romantic and familial manner.

I absolutely relish research so finding out about the various psychological conditions within the play was fascinating. I have a friend who is a psychiatrist, Dr Norman, and he talked me through the cycle of change which is the label that psychiatrists use for the circular nature of addiction – that was really interesting.

I also got to watch lots of reality TV documentaries about obesity, which was revealing if at times very hard watching, and really made me think about just what our fixation with these documentaries means as a society.

In rehearsals we spent a lot of time working out the back stories of all the characters so we felt that we could justify the choices that they have made in the play. It soon became clear to us that all of the characters believe that they have Arty’s best interests at heart and are motivated predominantly from a belief that they are doing him good. We hope that this leaves the audience in a position to make their own judgements and not to feel as though we are telling them what to think.

The nature of addiction and the way we view and treat the obese, the lonely and the marginalised as a society seems to me to be an increasingly urgent question. Humour is actually a wonderful tool in asking questions about this because people don’t feel preached at and are often more receptive to thinking about bigger themes when they are presented in an entertaining way.

I would say that as a theatre maker I am interested in stories that portray the complexity of life’s choices. And I would also say that I am predominantly fascinated by ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. This brings with it a huge responsibility to portray those characters as accurately as possible and to try to create nuance in that depiction.

James Dryden as Arty and Robin Weaver as Jojo, during Beached rehearsals. Photo by Ludovic des Cognets.

Robin Weaver as JoJo and James Dryden as Arty, during Beached rehearsals. Photo by Ludovic des Cognets.

How has it been working with the cast been so far?

On this show I was extremely lucky in that although the casting process took quite a long time every actor that I offered a part to accepted and so I have the four actors I most wanted to work with which is a real privilege.

We started the process with Melissa [Bubnic] in the room, sat around a table, exploring the script together and we were fortunate in having Mel there to help answer questions about the character’s motivations. Then after a few days Mel left us and we started standing the play on its feet. We finished a rough sketch of the whole piece in about five days and are now adding detail, refining the scenes and deepening the work.

The company worked incredibly hard to get themselves ‘off book’ (ie learning all their lines) quickly, which always makes the work richer because only when you know your lines are you able to act with your whole body which adds so much to the storytelling.

We also have a wide range of accents in this play so the company have been assiduously mastering those – particularly Robin who is learning James’ native Lancastrian burr in order to play JoJo.

Now we are at the stage where we’ve arrived in Canterbury, ready to get on the set designed by the brilliant Lily Arnold, so that we can work out the various challenges that will present. We are all very excited about this even though we know that with such a particular design we will have new challenges to overcome and will have to alter some of the choices we have already made.

What would you like people to take away from the play?

I think if the audience come away with a sense of empathy for all the characters in the piece, get provoked into thinking about the themes it explores, admire the multi-faceted performances of the cast, celebrate Mel as an exciting new writer, admire the design team’s work and have a really good evening full of belly laughs in the process, then I will be a very happy director.

Who would enjoy Beached?

Rather wonderfully I think that anyone over the age of 12* who has a sense of humour will enjoy the piece – it’s one of those plays to which you can invite all your friends and family as it’s humorous, clever, theatrical and only 75 minutes long. It’s a bit of a short, sharp, very funny shock!

Beached is at The Marlowe Studio from Tuesday 28 October to Saturday 1 November, and at Soho Theatre (Soho Upstairs) from Tuesday 4 to Sunday 23 November.

*The production contains adult themes and language.

A tribute to Lynda Bellingham

Lynda BellinghamBy Theatre Director Mark Everett

Today we woke up to the miserable news that Lynda Bellingham has passed away. Lynda was a wonderful actress and even more wonderful person: sassy, bold, loud, energetic and, above all, very, very funny.  She was one of those rare human beings who cannot help but bring joy to the world, and she will be sorely missed.

Lynda visited the old and new Marlowe Theatres several times, most recently in Calendar Girls (2012), and her presence filled the whole building. She was due to return at the end of September last year with the play A Passionate Woman. Lynda was advised not to commit to a national tour and she reluctantly pulled out, saying: “I’m devastated not to be able to honour my commitments to the play, but having toured many times before, I’m aware of the sheer stamina needed.”

Lynda’s death is a terrible loss. It’s also gut-wrenching that she will never grace our stage and entertain our audiences again. Our thoughts are with her family and friends.

Beached: meet the cast

Beached. Image by Tim Stubbings.

We’re just eleven days away from the British premiere of Beached – the first play we’re creating at The Marlowe. The cast are busy rehearsing, sets are being constructed and we’re just excited to see it all come together, and for you to see it! We’re also thrilled to introduce you to our brilliant cast.

But first, a reminder of what it is: Beached tells the story of 18-year-old Arty, who, at 67 stone, is morbidly obese and the world’s fattest teenager. He is a young man literally going nowhere.

All this is set to change when a reality TV crew moves in to ruthlessly document Arty’s supposed transformation from bedridden walrus to trousered sophisticate. But with the cameras rolling, something totally unexpected happens: Arty falls in love.

Australian Melissa Bubnic has written such a charming and affecting play; what could feel heavy is dealt with powerfully but also comedically.

I remembered some outright funny lines when reading the play, but hearing the cast read the play aloud on the first day of rehearsals was something else. They brought out all the heart and wit: it was moving and it was funny. And that was just day one.

So, let’s meet the team…

James Dryden (Arty, Beached)



Playing Arty is James Dryden. His theatre credits include Teechers (Theatre Royal, Wakefield) and The History Boys (Mercury Theatre). His television work includes Father Brown and for film, his work includes Tulip Fever and Mr Turner.



Robin Weaver (JoJo in Beached)

Robin Weaver plays Arty’s mother, JoJo. You’re most likely to know her as Pamela Cooper (Simon’s mum) in The Inbetweeners, both the series and films. Robin’s also appeared on film in Last Chance Harvey, Magicians and The Muppet Christmas Carol. Television credits include Black Mirror, Trollied, Him and Her, Twenty Twelve, Rev, The Thick Of It, The Inbetweeners and The Catherine Tate Show. Robin has also performed at the National Theatre, Soho Theatre and so many more. Click here for full credits.


Alison O’ Donnell plays Arty’s care-worker-turned-love-inAlison O'Donnell (Louise in Beached)terest, Louise. She is known for playing DC Alison MacIntosh in the BBC series Shetland, and her theatre credits include Incognito (Bush Theatre), Boys (Headlong), Yerma (Gate Theatre and Hull Truck Theatre), My Romantic History (Bush/Sheffield Crucible), Eigengrau (Bush Theatre), Dolls (National Theatre of Scotland), and Lady Windermere’s Fan (Oran Mor).



Rhoda Ofori-Attah

Rhoda Ofori-Attah plays the producer of Shocking Fat Stories – the documentary telling Arty’s story. Her theatre credits include Letters Home (Grid Iron), Bread (Young Vic), Egusi Soup (Soho Theatre), A Doll’s House (Theatre Delicatessen), Otieno (Southwark Playhouse), Present Tense (Southwark Playhouse), Romeo & Juliet (Shakespeare’s Globe), In Time (Almeida Theatre), Hackney! Who Asked You?, Against Your Own  (Arcola Theatre), Molnar Shorts (Finborough Theatre). Television credits include Inside Out South East, Grownups, and Rose and Maloney. Film credits include Tulip Fever and The Art of Defining Me.


Justin Audibert
is directed by Justin Audibert, a previous associate of the Royal Shakespeare Company and winner of the prestigious Leverhulme Bursary. You may well have seen Justin’s work here before as he directed Red Ladder Theatre Company’s Wrong ‘Un, which played here last month, and also The Jew Of Malta as part of our Marlowe450 anniversary season with Fourth Monkey Theatre Company. View a list of Justin’s directing credits here.


So, here are our team all together, from left to right: Robin Weaver (JoJo), James Dryden (Arty), Justin Audibert (director), Alison O’Donnell (Louise) and Rhoda Ofori-Attah (Producer).

Cast in rehearsals

Look out for behind-the-scenes blogposts and interviews with the cast and creatives over the next few weeks!

Beached is at The Marlowe Studio from Tuesday 28 October to Saturday 1 November, and at Soho Theatre (Soho Upstairs) from Tuesday 4 to Sunday 23 November. The production contains adult themes and language.

An introduction to the Philharmonia Orchestra

Philharmonia Orchestra / Esa-Pekka Salonen, 6 March 2013

We are the Philharmonia Orchestra and we would like to introduce you to who we are and what we do. Founded in the 1940s by record label EMI as a recording orchestra, we have now moved on a long way and are one of the world’s most prestigious orchestras, with a notorious recording history as well as international live performance acclaim.

You may not have heard of the Philharmonia Orchestra but you may well have heard us. We’re often on the radio, and are the musicians playing the soundtracks to films such as Thor: The Dark World (2013), Iron Man III (2013) and Hercules (2014), and video games such as Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows. We also have a number of residencies across the UK, in London, Leicester, Bedford, Basingstoke, The Three Choirs Festival and, of course, Canterbury, for which we are very excited to be bringing a fantastic new 14/15 season starting this month.

This Saturday 11 October, it’s the Philharmonia Orchestra’s first concert of the season at The Marlowe Theatre. 2014 marks the centenary of the start of the First World War, and so appropriately, the Philharmonia are commemorating in their own unique way, showcasing post-war pieces by three of the most well-known and treasured British composers.

Each of these composers were personally affected by war, whether they were involved in battle or not, and channel these experiences into their music. Vaughan Williams was a stretcher bearer during the Great War, exposing him to horrific sights of injured service men amongst other things. Elgar, although not serving active duty, remembers hearing the eerie sounds of canons from across the channel in France.

From The Marlowe stage we travel across the channel to Bruges to perform this concert on the same day in 1914 that Bruges was occupied by the Germans.

Onto the night’s music…Elgar’s mesmerising Cello Concerto was written just after the First World War and is still one of Elgar’s most performed and celebrated pieces. He poured the emotion of the after effects of the war into his music. Elgar knew that the gravity of the Great War would have an everlasting effect, which inspired a somewhat different musical language for his compositional style.

Famously performed and recorded by the cellist Jacqueline Du Pré, the intensity and emotional context of the Cello Concerto is fully exerted by her playing.  Alisa Weilerstein, who listened to these recordings as a child and is often described as the modern Jacqueline Du Pré, is a rising star who has a growing international reputation far beyond her years.

Speaking about the Elgar Cello Concerto, Alisa says “no matter how many times you return to it, there is always something new to discover”.  A review of her performance in May 2010 at The Sheldonian, Oxford, really gives a sense of how emotionally heart-wrenching her playing is: “Alisa Weilerstein gave the most technically complete and emotionally devastating performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto that I have ever heard live, with an [Berlin Philharmonic] orchestral accompaniment she can only have thought possible in her wildest dreams…”The Guardian, May 2010.

Hear Alisa Weilerstein talking about Elgar’s Cello Concerto:

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ 3rd Symphony, Pastoral, is a master class of emotional and musical genius. This piece was Vaughan William’s attempt at confronting the horrors of the First World War. Although named as Pastoral, it is far from the idyllic scene one might imagine. Composed from the memory of Vaughan William’s personal experience in the Great War whilst in France, he depicts an almost ‘anti-pastoral’ symphony. All four movements are fairly slow, sometimes being described as the four seasons, however melancholy at that, and the fourth serving as a sort of Requiem for the First World War.

At the age of 42 when enlisting in 1914, he joined the Army Medical Corps where he received basic training as well as also having enough time to form a band, which he conducted. It wasn’t until 1916 that he was deployed to France. Although the war took up the majority of his time, on his return he picked up straight from where he left off, being offered work and commissions.

Here is a short video about Vaughan Williams experience of the war and how it affected his music:

Last up, chronologically at least, is the Four Sea Interludes’ from Benjamin Britten’s opera, Peter Grimes, which was also the piece that reopened Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London after the Second World War. The interludes act as scene changes and musical soliloquies for the opera, however, Britten later decided that they could be performed in their own right, making slight changes so they can stand on their own.

During the Second World War, Britten and his life partner, Peter Pears, spent their time between Canada and the United States, and it was here he wrote his most famous work Sinfonia da Requiem (1940). Although not actively involved in the war, once it had been won, Britten accompanied Yeheudi Menuhin playing for survivors at a concentration camp.

Towards the end of his life, he told Peter Pears that “the experience coloured everything he had written subsequently”. As John Bridcut says, “if you’re a newcomer to Britten, there is nowhere better to begin than here, but the Sea Interludes are not cheap cuts. You will find they haunt you for the rest of your life.”

Our anniversary & millionth customer: Mark Everett reflects

Words: Amy Jane Smith, Marketing Officer

Mark Everett, Theatre Director at The Marlowe.

Mark Everett, Theatre Director.

Today marks the third anniversary of our theatre opening, and this date also closely coincides with an even more exciting milestone: our millionth customer.

I caught up with our Theatre Director Mark Everett to find out how he feels when he recalls the last three wonderful but hectic years.

He describes a sense of “amazement. It’s bizarre to think back on that time over three years ago – the anticipation and anxiety of opening this new theatre and how far we’ve come since then.”

“Really, we’ve achieved most of what we set out to do and then some. The idea of being able to host Glyndebourne was almost totemic in building the new theatre. We’re now one of their regular venues on their limited tours – which is a real mark of success but also stability. The big producers seem to love coming here, and so we’re proud to be able to present the best touring shows. We have a wonderful, varied programme right through 2016.”

“The other end of the spectrum, but equally exciting, is the work coming into (and now also out of) The Marlowe Studio. It’s an absolute joy housing this new venue, presenting the best new plays, contemporary theatre and comedy. Anyone who has enjoyed a show in the space will know that there’s a different energy to it – the intimacy of it being such a small space (150 seats) lends a sense of exclusivity: you feel like you’re part of something really special.”

And how about the thought of one million customers?

“Well, how do you process that one? It’s a number that feels intangible, too big to process, but this isn’t a statistic that we’re patting ourselves on the back for. It’s overwhelming and of course it feels great, but more than anything it’s humbling, and makes us so appreciate our audiences: quite literally, we’d be nothing without them. It’s also strong evidence that love of theatre is alive and well. I may be biased, but there really is nothing quite like a night of live entertainment – and this number just goes to prove that.”

While our audience numbers grow, so do staff numbers. Mark recalls a changing team and atmosphere around the building:

“On re-opening, we had some staff members from the previous theatre but a mostly new team – some of whom were even new to the theatre industry. All of us, regardless of levels of experience, had to learn and learn fast – with the new theatre being a whole new entity with its own challenges and opportunities. We’ve been through a lot together and I couldn’t wish for a better team, of which there are now over 150 of us. Our staff members have built up a superb level of expertise – it’s great to feel so settled and safe with a brilliant, innovative team.”

Personally I was so glad to begin my theatre career here as Arts Marketing Trainee. The scheme is still going and going strong.

“Absolutely. It’s a credit to the theatre to have the traineeships run so well. Our most recent “graduates” as it were have gone straight onto jobs at the Donmar Warehouse, Soho Theatre and Finborough Theatre – with previous trainees now enjoying advanced careers at the National Theatre, on tour with Blood Brothers and Wicked, amongst other esteemed companies. This kind of full-time paid training job is rare in this industry but is so important to us, to nurture these young people and help them begin their careers. We can now confidently call ourselves a learning organisation – and it’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”

How about the shows themselves – what would your top three productions from the last three years be?

“Oh that’s a tough one. Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake would have to be up there. It’s a stunning production but it’s also one there’s no way we could have hosted in the previous theatre – so that was a real proud moment, and felt like a personal journey. Porgy And Bess was a massive production that felt really special, then in the Studio this year’s Marlowe450 season was fantastic. To work with this young, fresh company [Fourth Monkey] to mark Marlowe’s 450th anniversary felt important and exciting.”

And how about shows yet to come? What are you most excited for?

“I can’t wait for the return of Cirque Eloize with Cirkopolis – anyone who saw their previous production here in 2011 will know just how fantastic they are. Also Kneehigh Theatre’s Rebecca – a company I can’t stop raving about. It’s not just in the Studio that we have cutting edge work – these are one of the best touring companies around. Though in the Studio The Paper Birds are back with Blind. I saw and loved Thirsty last year, and missed the debut of this piece in April so will be booking to see it here in October.”

“Of course the show we’re all most excited for has to be Beached. It’s the first play we are producing, which is premiering in The Marlowe Studio in October for a week before transferring to the Soho Theatre. It’s the sum of so much hard work, much of which is still to come, but also only the beginning of our journey into the world of producing.”

The creative projects department has also grown considerably over the past few years, right?

“Oh, beyond belief. We started out with The Marlowe Youth Theatre, adult acting and pre-school classes running out of The Marlowe Studio. We’ve since added a class for 5-7yrs (Minis), and also The Marlowe Literary Department led by our Marlowe Literary Associate Simon Mendes da Costa. We’ve been able to offer script feedback, and writing workshops through this. The classes expanded to the point where they had to take up a new home – with us taking on a new space in the form of The Marlowe Lab at Pound Lane.”

“Our creative projects team have taken us from just giving classes, to linking up with national companies, local communities, and putting on full-scale productions. We’re about to enter into our third National Theatre Connections play – both with our own youth theatre taking part and hosting the South East’s festival. Then there’s mid-year writing showcases and festivals such as Modern Heresies, Canterbury Children’s Festival, and of course our community production.”

“Last year saw our creative classes work together to produce and perform The Garden Of England – a stunning celebration of our rich and diverse heritage, with the performance taking place across our grounds and in The Marlowe Studio. There was such an atmosphere about the place. For a first project of its kind here, it was hugely ambitious and successful – the participants loved getting to perform in a professional theatre. Our next community production, The Rights Of Others, will take place in July – and I’m sure it’ll be even bigger and better.”

Any final thoughts?

“Just thank you – to the companies who visit us with wonderful shows and the producers that bring them, to the team here at The Marlowe and to you – our brilliant, supportive audience. We look forward to seeing you again soon.”

Small Plans: making a serious point doesn’t always have to be done in a serious way

Small Plans at The Marlowe Studio.

Small Plans at The Marlowe Studio.

By Alex Mitchell, Director

When I was first given Small Plans over a year and a half ago, I had no idea how far this 17-page monologue would go, from landing on my desk in early 2013 to touring the country. It has been an absolute joy from the moment I read past the first word.

The reason being is that it is dealing with issues of people, it’s not trying to solve the credit crunch, or re-evaluate your relationship, or tell you to switch to soy. It is a heartfelt, brutally honest story about sometimes, when at a crisis point, you might realise you have absolutely no idea what to do; and that’s okay.

One thing that we all wanted to ensure from our first coffee-soaked meetings, whilst trying to plan the first version of Small Plans (that showcased in a disused office in October 2013), was to make sure the humour was not lost from the script. Katy’s journey as a character is not always filled with happiness, rainbows, or kittens; however, it is rooted with a sharp, unbiased, and honest humour of her own unfortunate predicament.

This honest and macabre humour is the driving force of Small Plans, something that we wanted to make sure was shown throughout. Which led us to the realisation that serious issues sometimes do not have to be shown in a serious way. That some of the most thought-provoking and relatable films, TV shows and theatre, that we enjoy, is also probably the most entertaining – this what we wanted to achieve.

Katy is not a nice person, I wouldn’t even go as far to say she is a good person; however, she is still a person – a person who laughs, cries, and dances awfully when she’s had too much to drink; just like anybody else. She is someone who does not try to complain about the awful things that happen to her, she just tries to see if she can even come close to understanding why; failing that, she just tries to accept that it happened and move on – just like everybody else.

Everyday tragedy is ripe; however, comedy is also – it is the trials and tribulations of the day-to-day. Seeing in the story that sometimes the big plans don’t go to plan, and that it’s the small plans that make it all worthwhile, made us realise that sometimes there is nothing wrong with making your point whilst making people laugh, or at the very least smile!

Small Plans is at The Marlowe Studio on Saturday 4 October, 8pm. Click here to view an album of production photos. Find Silent Uproar Productions on their website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.