It is impossible to speak to Nathan Bryon without feeling a bit uplifted. Energetic, funny and engaging the writer is bubbling over with joie de vivre which is somewhat infectious. The 28-year-old artist describes himself as being “excited by life” which shows itself in his boundless enthusiasm and prolific body of work.
Bryon became a familiar face on our TV screens in 2012 playing Jamie Bennett in ground-breaking BBC3 sitcom Some Girls before landing the role of Joey Ellis in classic British series Benidorm.
Having not yet reached 30, Bryon has already established himself as one of Britain’s most versatile writers. He has worked on TV shows including BAFTA award winning Swashbuckle and Rastamouse alongside penning his own short films such as award winning comedy, Bossman. He has also written several web-series including Reality which packed out the BFI’s largest cinema when it was screened in 2017.
Born to a white British father and Jamaican mother in Shepherd’s Bush, (his manor) Bryon’s cultural heritage often informs his work. His latest family play Dexter and Winter’s Detective Agency which is being produced by Paines Plough also draws from the writer’s experience as an inner-city child. The 50-minute play has already premiered at Theatr Clwyd in Wales to excellent reviews and is scheduled to run at the Edinburgh fringe festival before a UK tour in Autumn.
Bryon said: “The reviews have been positive. What’s lovely is that my show is London-centric, you know, the way the kids talk and stuff. It’s lovely for the Welsh audience to jump into that world.”
Like many of Bryon’s projects, such as his superhero web-series Afro Kid, the play is a fresh take on a classic genre. The familiar narrative of kids cracking a case with lots of wild adventures along the way is all present and correct, but has an additional twist, as Bryon reveals.
We all can look at our parents as superheroes when we’re children and think that they can’t do any wrong, but the play is about seeing your parents as a human and seeing that they can make mistakes
“Winter is an awesome detective fan and Dexter is interested in being a detective because he needs to save his mum who’s been arrested for a jewellery robbery. Dexter and Winter; they use a lot of slang, they’re cool, they’re running around and having lots of hectic fun, but the show is also about redemption and honesty. Like, you know we all can look at our parents as superheroes when we’re children and think that they can’t do any wrong, but the play is about seeing your parents as a human and seeing that they can make mistakes.”
The actor continued that although there is a serious message to the production, it is also, as he puts it “crazy fun” with lots of running around and getting the audience involved. The two main characters are aged around nine and flit between sleuthing and generally being boisterous throughout the show.
The motivation for the madcap adventure was partly Bryon’s own love of detective stories and his experience of working with children whose parents are in the prison system.
“I think what inspired the story is that I work with a lot of young people in prisons or not in school or whatever, and a lot of them are trying to redeem, themselves or their parents, even if their parents have done things that have put them in problems. I think it’s always really important to see that your mum or dad can make a mistake ’cos that’s a reflection of you in the future potentially. It’s also a message for the parents that when you make mistakes, you redeem yourself if you just put your hands up, apologise, try and fix it,” Bryon shared.
A lot of Bryon’s work is for a child audience, although he revealed that during this show’s Flintshire run, a pair of 60-year-olds liked the play so much they came twice. Another string to Bryon’s already overcrowded bow is his first children’s book Look Up being published last month. Illustrated by Dapo Adeola, the book is about a space-obsessed little girl named Rocket and is the first of a series of three to be published by Penguin Random House. When asked what draws him to create work for children, Bryon said he enjoys how invested children are in a good story.
Bryon said: “I love that it’s limitless. This Netflix generation where you watch something for two minutes while you’re texting or cooking; if you watch kids watch anything, they put everything into what they’re watching and I think that’s really special. So, I really wanna make sure that the work that I’m creating is engaging them fully and making them think and also making them laugh.”
Bryon is quick to point out that Dexter and Winter is a family show as opposed to a children’s show and is eager for parents to also be involved in the production.
“When you call something a kids’ show, it gives you the feeling that adults can just switch off and I think adults shouldn’t switch off. They should be a part of it. Like pantos, you know pantos are great ’cos they’re a family show.
Dexter and Winter’s Detective Agency
Bryon explained: “My mum took me to theatre from young, but it must have been a panto that I first saw, it’s usually the first show kids go to see. What’s so great about panto is that interactivity; it’s about coming together and going through the story step by step.”
The writer’s expertise on panto is partly due to his having performed in several during his time in the Lyric’s Youth Theatre and writing the Lyric’s Christmas show remains on his bucket list. Bryon joined the youth company at 16 and has had a long running relationship with the off-West End theatre based in Hammersmith. Having gained “pretty shit A Levels” Bryon nonetheless secured a place at a London university, but decided to jump straight into creative work when the Lyric offered him a job.
The playwright said: “I became an artistic associate on a year’s contract. To this day, I still don’t really understand the job role (laughs) but I saw it as a traineeship. It was incredible. They basically taught me to understand theatre more and I got to work with people like Sam Stevenson and Sean Holmes and I ended up running workshops and all sorts. The Lyric has been a big part of me getting into theatre.”
After his contract with the Lyric, Bryon spent time figuring out his own artistic style, as he explains:
“It took me a long time to work out what my standing is and who I wanted to talk to. I went around listening to my community to work out what I cared about. You know, Shepherds Bush, being a young black guy, and developing my own voice.”
Another key experience in Bryon’s theatre journey came in 2015 when he secured the role of writer in residence for Paines Plough, which he said broadened his concept of theatre.
My mum took me to theatre from young, but it must have been a panto that I first saw, it’s usually the first show kids go to see. What’s so great about panto is that interactivity; it’s about coming together and going through the story step by step
Bryon said: “That completely changed my life, they basically taught me that theatre comes in all shapes and sizes. It just smashed the doors of my vision of a traditional theatre. Also, telling me that I can write theatre, I think that’s another big thing. When you’re a young black person, you need to know that this is a stage that you can create for. Basically, I’m just a sponge, man. I’m just soaking up everything around me to work out the best way to tell a story.”
As one would expect with the workaholic Londoner, Bryon has several projects in the pipeline. When asked what these are, he comments that it’s an excellent question before apologetically saying that he can’t properly answer it.
Bryon laughed: “I’m sorry. I can tell you that I have a feature film in development with a friend with a very big film company, which is good. I can’t tell you who, or what or when, or I’ll get in trouble. We’re also in talks with the Illuminated Film Company about developing Look Up into a programme and there’s a couple of other things. I’m sorry!”
Actor, writer, filmmaker and comedian, Nathan Bryon obviously has many avenues yet to explore. But for the moment, he is focused upon taking Dexter and Winter’s Detective Agency and explains with trademark exuberance exactly why audiences should go and see it.
“Because it is incredibly fun. It’s also about redemption and finding better ways of apologising which we’re all trying to find. It’s about lifelong friendship, even though it’s seen through the point of view of two nine-year-olds which is awesome. It’s like a live action cartoon, you’ll be dancing-it’s just crazy. You’ll have a great time. Come, come, why not?” (Laughs.)
NEED TO KNOW: Dexter and Winter’s Detective Agency is showing at the Edinburgh Festival fringe at Summerhall Roundabout on 17 / 18 / 24 / 25 August 17th | book tickets | It then goes on a national tour, from 5 September to 26th October at Theatre Royal Stratford East. Find out more | see listing