DramaFeaturedLondonReview

Octopolis – Hampstead Theatre, London

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

Writer: Marek Horn

Director: Ed Madden

Ethnology, anthropology, romance and David Bowie seem like ingredients for a fairly peculiar concoction, but aren’t most romcoms about opposing forces ultimately coming together to find harmony? Marek Horn’s new one-act play, Octopolis, receiving its World Premiere, dares to offer this mix and the result is a strikingly original and highly entertaining comedy.

George is a recently widowed professor of ethnology, living a reclusive life on a university campus. She shares her quarters with an octopus named Frances, who is part of her research into human and animal behaviour. She asks questions such as whether or not Frances believes in God. George’s solitary life is intruded upon by the arrival of Harry, an ambitious doctor of anthropology, whose mission is to observe both George and Frances and reach conclusions which may not concur with the findings of his hostess.

Typically for scientists, the two protagonists seek logical explanations for everything even where none exist. Both are expert in fathoming the unfathomable, but neither is so hot at dealing with their own emotions. The challenge for Horn is to make both characters credible academics as they voice conflicting theories, while also making the dialogue accessible to audiences who are most likely to perceive it as intellectual gobbledegook. In meeting this challenge, the writer is aided by the verve of director Ed Madden’s production.

The academics confront each other, making humorous asides directly to the audience and, at intervals, they break for “dad” (and “mom”) dancing to Bowie tracks. Jemma Redgrave’s brittle and defensive George is a figure of comedy living on the cusp of tragedy. Ewan Miller’s geeky and arrogant Harry shows eagerness for discovery and naïveté in comprehending himself. Together these actors, on stage for the play’s entire 100 minutes, light sparks off each other.

Designer Anisha Fields finds a very clever way of suggesting the ever-presence of Frances. The audience sits on three sides of the stage and the whole length of the fourth side is taken up by what appears to be a tank full of water. Reflections of the actors can be seen in the glass front of the tank, giving the impression that it is the human characters that are being studied, thereby underlining the point of the play.

Once the intellectual mist has cleared, Octopolis reveals itself to be smart, slightly surreal and quietly touching. This is a romcom that has legs, eight of them to be precise.

Runs until 28 October 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

A romcom with legs

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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