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Octopus Soup

Jack Milner & Mark Stevenson
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry & Simon Fielder
Grand Theatre, Blackpool
to

Writers Jack Milner and Mark Stevenson have cooked up a brand new comedy that, at the moment, can only best be described as a seafood starter.

It has all the right ingredients, some might say too many, of a strong cast with several familiar TV faces, a contemporary storyline around big business, and some comic invention. And when the first pair of trousers are dropped, in the play’s opening moments—and before anyone has even said a word—there’s a distinct nod towards the time-honoured traditions of British farce.

Nick Hancock certainly has an air of Brian Rix about him, as the hapless husband vainly attempting to control events spinning out of his obsessive, compulsive control. Hancock is Seymour, an insurance consultant whose attempt to sell a get-rich-quick scheme is interrupted by a bungling burglar Marvin (Paul Bradley). When the thief spots his own business opportunity, a criminal enterprise ensues.

Enter Seymour’s histrionic wife (Carolyn Backhouse), haughty insurance exec (Gillian Bevan), Marvin’s psychopathic boss (Eric Richard), oh, and Marvin’s pet octopus Terry (uncredited), and you have all the consommé ingredients, even if the seasoning is not yet quite to taste.

The best of farces keep one foot firmly in reality, or eight if you include the mollusc, but Octopus Soup seems unsure as to whether it’s a farce, absurdist comedy, or plain old sitcom. Paul Bradley enjoys the best of the sporadic laughs, with an almost Del Boy-ish delight in mangling the British language, or schoolboyish use of expletives.

The result is an uncertain enterprise and one which demands far more attention to stage movement, and overall physicality, from director Joe Harmston.

The plot tends to tail off into a deep and meaningless ending, but it is all neatly contained into two 55-minute acts and given a Home Counties stage set of contemporary realism by Anthony Lamble’s design.

David Upton