WHEN bullying victim Dave Cookson returns to face those who made his young life hell he’s bulked up mind and body in John Godber’s dark comedy Beef.
Directed by Doncaster-born Nick Lane, the one-man play returns former soap star Matthew Booth to Sheffield’s Lantern Theatre tomorrow and Saturday and to a role he toured in 2009 with Hull Truck Theatre.
“It’s amazing how lines come back to you even after two and a half years. It’s a bit like muscle memory – you remember rhythms and patterns from what you did before,” says Matthew, who returned to West Yorkshire hometown Normanton to rehearse.
“I did a week in a village hall. It was funny as we had to give way to the ‘dog man’ at 4pm – I had to clear my set and he would bring all these Alsatians in.”
Beef sees Cookson as a figure of fun, a schoolyard victim ignored by the girl he loves, with aspirations of becoming a bodybuilder like Arnie.
In the first half the character explains to the audience the story of how he is bullied and his parents aren’t good towards him.
“It’s six years later in the second half and I have a muscle suit which bulks me up to a 17-stone powerlifting champion,” says Matthew.
“He comes back and he’s in a different mind set and ready to take on the bullies who made his life a misery. He’s become dangerous because he’s got himself an education at university, this guy who has been expected to get a job in a factory or down the pit.
He’s come back with a dangerous physique and a dangerous brain.”
Cookson teaches the lads, stuck in their old small lives in a small mining town, a lesson in a darker, contrasting second half.
“It’s a really good character arc and one of John’s nicest bits of writing.
“Dave’s a nutter, essentially. It’s what he’s been driven to become. He goes away and has lots of time to think about it. He sees nothing has changed and it frustrates him. He’s moved on and nobody else has. I wouldn’t want to meet him.”
Matthew admits he was both bullied and raised in a small town. “There are parallels to my life growing up in a mining community, but Beef has a massive resonance with anybody, whether you grew up in the ’70s or are growing up now as bullying is still a massive, topical thing.”
Matthew quit his post round as Paul Marsden in Emmerdale in 2004 and has been doing more theatre, notably with Hull Truck and Northern Broadsides, including Crucible and Lyceum shifts.
On TV he’s also appeared in Corrie, The Ward and At Home with the Braithwaites.
“With John Godber growing up 15 minutes from where I live, all the references I get,” he adds.
“It’s a bit of a shortcut really. I know what he is talking about, I don’t have to imagine, it’s already on my hard drive. The dialect, the rhythms of how we speak. That’s why it’s so real – and important to me to do this. It’s good to revisit - and with a one man show you’re in charge.”
Beef is presented by Rich Seam Theatre Company and starts at 7.30pm.
Dick Barton – Special Agent continues his adventure at Sheffield Library Theatre until Saturday courtesy of Denys Edwards Players. This affectionate spoof of the original wireless series is presented with music in the setting of a radio broadcasting studio and includes a Saturday 2.30pm performance. Tickets: £7 via 0114 2748299.