Octopus Soup! – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Writers: Jack Milner and Mark Stevenson,

Director: Joe Harmston

Reviewer: Nicole Craft

Seymour Norse (Nick Hancock) is about to receive the most important phone call of his life. He’s persuaded his bigwig boss to give him 20 minutes of her time to pitch an idea that he thinks will save the company’s (and his own) bacon. He’s rinsed his mouth out, pressed his trousers, practised his slide commentary and is wearing two belts – what could possibly go wrong? Introducing Marvin (Paul Bradley) – a bungling burglar who apparently has more business sense than common sense and whose primary concern is Terry, a pet Octopus that is currently in the boot of his car. The hilarity-potential heightens as the two realise they are not in the house alone and when the phone rings and the webcam kicks in, chaos ensues.

In a pre-show interview, writer Jack Milner says that he and Mark Stevenson decided to go against the norms of your average farce by getting straight into the action and not building up any suspense. The result, however, is peaking too soon, and once we get past the initial few genuinely funny parts during the phone call, it falls too flat, unfortunately becoming an over-extended, loosely-humourous, version of what Milner said they’d wanted to avoid.

The cast do well with a lacklustre script and it’s not their performances that let the production down. The moments of true farce that do occur are mostly executed well, they just aren’t given enough to play with and, more often than not, it becomes more of a drama piece with added shouting than anything that could be described as comedy.

Hancock is surprisingly impressive, mastering his portrayal of Seymour’s increased frustration and pained expressions at the stupidity around him, and bounces off Bradley well throughout. Bradley gets truly stuck into his character as the nice-but-dim Marvin and is a convincing bungling burglar who has made some bad life choices. Carolyn Backhouse is perfect for the role of Seymour’s wife – airy-fairy budding actress Gloria – who arrives home post-phone call to further confuse the situation, and her over-the-top portrayal of ‘Surrey Housewife’ is almost too good. Gillian Bevan and Eric Richard complete the bill as Seymour and Marvin’s respective bosses and, although their active parts are much smaller, neither can really be faulted.

What does thoroughly impress is the set which, for a B2 studio stage, is incredibly detailed and imposing in the sense that you instantly feel part of the action. A simple yet effective series of panels become the living room-cum-study in Seymour’s bungalow; adorned with many pointless vases, a self-indulgent Cleopatra poster featuring Gloria and a couple of tables. The use of lighting and sound at the start of each act, presumably intending to complement the set while referencing the sort of cheesy soap opera Gloria is auditioning for, is slightly baffling and just doesn’t have the desired effect, only serving to cheapen designer Anthony Lamble’s invention.

With productions such as The Play That Goes Wrong on the circuit and the likes of more recent efforts such as Nigel Planers, The Game of Love and Chai to compete with, a good comedy-farce needs to try really hard to even remotely compare. Sadly, Octopus Soup! falls far too short of the mark to do so and, despite great potential and some enjoyable moments, just doesn’t tickle the tentacles.

Runs Until 16 February 2019  | Image: Robert Day

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. 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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