"Benidorm has allowed me to have lots of great conversations about the sort of things I want to create."
Best-known for playing Joey in ITV's hit sitcom Benidorm, Nathan Bryon might not have been on our TV screens much since but behind-the-scenes he's one of the hardest working people in this industry, acting, writing, directing and making it happen on his terms.
His work on children's television shows extends to writing credits on numerous shows including Apple Tree House, Rastamouse and Swashbuckle and he recently released Look Up!, a children's picture book about a plucky aspiring astronaut intent on getting her community to reach for the stars, both in the UK and in the US.
His latest project, Dexter and Winter's Detective Agency, a play for families, is heading to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe every weekend, before embarking on a nationwide tour until the end of October. Whilst not starring in the play himself, I wanted to catch up with Nathan to find more about the play, understand why he loves writing for children so much and how having this platy published is a dream come true.
Most people will know you from playing Joey Benidorm, what has starring in that show allowed you to do?
What Benidorm has allowed me to have lots of great conversations about the sort of things I want to create. Obviously Derren Litten allowed me to be in one of his creations, which allowed me to meet so many amazing people and now commissioners and producers want to see what I want to create. And that's always been a really big passion of mine.
I've got loads and loads of projects in development which is great, but the problem with development is that sometimes you don't see what's made. But I've been really lucky.
I co-wrote a Sky Arts short with Samson Kayo called Samson Kayo's Comedy Short which is on NOW TV now and Sky One and that was nominated for a Broadcast Digital award. Off the back of that, Sky wanted us to write a half-hour pilot so we've just done that and now we're waiting to hear if that's a telly show or not. So who knows?!
And then the kid's book came along as part of a three-book deal with Penguin here and in America which is really exciting. The first book Look Up came out the other week and then the other day in the States. We're also developing that for TV which is really cool.
I've still been writing a lot of stuff for CBeebies as well, series three of my web series Reality which is coming back. It's my angry space so I need to be in a weird angry space to come up with some of those bad boys. But the thing I'm most excited about is finally being able to tell the stories that have been sitting in my head.
One of those stories you're taking to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. How did Dexter and Winter's Detective Agency come about?
It came about super quick! Paines Plough are an amazing company, I have a relationship with them after being a writer in residence for them in 2015 and I did another play from them called Mixed Brain which premiered at the festival and with this one, they called me up the weekend before Christmas and asked me if I wanted to write a family show for Edinburgh.
They had no idea what I wanted to write about but when they asked me I was like "Hell yeah!" and then they told me that it would be touring for six months - and I thought, wow that's a big commitment for something you don't know I'm going to do. But they were excited about that and so was I.
What is the play about?
The idea came from how when you're a kid you see your parent as a superhero don't you? They're somebody who can do no wrong, they're invincible and what the play is about is about a young kid whose mum is a single parent, she's really really struggling and she gets herself involved in a big jewellery robbery.
Dexter, who's the young kid, doesn't believe that his mum has done this crime that she's been arrested for so him and his best friend go on a really intense investigation to prove her innocence. Sadly, they find out that she did it and it's about owning up to what you've done, being honest and truthful.
It's really funny and wild and then it gets really heartfelt. I'm really really excited by it actually.
Why do you think Edinburgh is still a great place for writers and performers to put on a show?
Once you've been to Edinburgh you realise that it's just incredible. It's free - not free in the sense of money, but a free space where you can see a show about anything. One of my favourite things to do at the Fringe is see about five shows a day, try and get a beer in between each show, chatting to all your mates and seeing loads of things that you wouldn't naturally see.
That's what's really exciting about Edinburgh. In London I'm usually watching every show I can in Soho Theatre or The Bush Theatre because they're theatres that talk directly to me. But in Edinburgh I'll go and see shit that I would never ever go and see anywhere else. I just think "Fuck it I'm here" - this person's playing a trumpet and telling a monologue. Great. Let's see if they do it!
Your play will be on every weekend, will you be heading up there?
Yeah, I'll be heading up there for a week, for press night of my show and then during that week I'm going to be getting drunk and seeing everyone's shows. In my show I won't be drunk!
Who do you have you cast for Dexter and Winter's Detective Agency?
Toyin Omari-Kinch and two Charlottes, Charlotte O'Leary and Charlotte Bate and it's directed by Stef O'Driscoll who's obviously incredible and they're incredible actors as well. It's really difficult for them because there are around 30 characters in the play but only three actors so some of them are playing four characters in a scene!
They're really hard-working and as well as Dexter and Winter's Detective Agency for the Paines Plough Roundabout Season so it's intense. You lok at them and think "That is a different calibre of actor" - the stamina these guys have is incredible. I prefer laying on a deck chair in Benidorm! That's why I'm writing. (Laughs)
With your work on CBeebies, your book and now this play, do you enjoy writing for kids?
I love writing for kids because the imagination can be as wild as you want. Sometimes in sitcom and some of the other things I'm doing, you're quite grounded in reality, which is brilliant because there's nothing funnier than life, but in kid's shows and kid's books ANYTHING can happen.
To be able to sit at your desk and work out what you can write or do to entertain kids for an hour really really excites me.
Do you find that you're writing characters now that you wish you'd have seen on TV and in books growing up?
100 percent. I hate banging on about diversity and all that shit, but for me the lead character in my play is a young black guy and that's super important. When I did go and see kid's theatre when I was really young, I didn't see diversity.
Even in kid's books, diversity now is still terrible. It's on the up and we're trying but it's really really rare so I make sure that all my work whether it be sitcom for adults or kids shows that I'm putting in characters that are diverse because that's what I want to see.
Until it's a level playing ground, that's what I'm going to keep doing.
You must be pleased with the response to the book then?
Completely! People sending in pictures of their young kids with the book is SO amazing because that's exactly why we are doing this. We got sent a picture of a young black girl in Australia which is exactly why we are doing this.
We're by no means one of the first, Alesha Dixon's done it, Rochelle Humes has written some really great books and Malorie Blackman has really been supporting this space so it's a privilege to be a part of that and try and get as many great stories out as possible.
Also, more importantly, diverse stories don't put any audiences out. Stories are for everyone and we can learn from each other. A lot of my diverse stories aren't really about race or anything like that, they're about a character who is black who is doing something really cool and great.
Look Up has nothing to do with her being a young black girl, she's just a girl who loves space.
Outside of the Fringe, what are you working on?
We've got another book out next year and then another book out the year after. But in between that there'll be lots of other crazy shit popping off I believe which fills up my days!
Oh and Nick Hern are publishing the text for Dexter and Winter's Detective Agency which is so awesome. I've always wanted a play of mine published and it was so cool to go into the Royal Court Bookshop and pick up a copy!
Finally, how would you sum up Dexter and Winter's Detective Agency in just five words?
Total utter chaos, with heart.
Dexter and Winter's Detective Agency runs 3rd & 4th, 10th & 11th, 17th & 18th and 24th & 25th August at 11.20am at Summerhall (Roundabout). Book tickets here.