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Octopus Soup! review at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry – ‘an entertaining farce’

Paul Bradley, Carolyn Backhouse and Nick Hancock in Octopus-Soup! Photo: Robert Day

Presenting itself as a new British farce, Jack Milner and Mark Stevenson’s play initially feels like a straight-forward, if old fashioned comedy. The first hour sees one half of an odd couple, strait-laced insurance consultant Seymour Norse (Nick Hancock), readying himself for a webcam pitch meeting. But it’s bungling burglar, Marvin Haynes (Paul Bradley) who wins over the insurance giant’s CEO, Virginia Whale (Gillian Bevan), by combining his criminal smarts with Seymour’s insider knowledge.

Predictably their plan unravels, partly due to Seymour’s ethical qualms, partly due to Marvin’s pet octopus Terry, causing havoc. The latter serves as a Chekhov’s gun, resulting in plenty of entertaining physical comedy. But it’s an actual gun that prompts the play’s surprising comparison between the unapologetic criminality of men like Marvin with the more conniving tactics of people like Virginia and the wealthy establishment.

Also surprising is the way the play repeatedly attempts to push past stereotypes. Marvin’s gangster boss, Alan menacingly arrives in dimmed lighting, yet, he reveals a liking for philanthropy. Seymour’s capricious wife Gloria (Carolyn Backhouse) comes on stage screaming about disappearing youth and Backhouse captures her immature tendencies in every gesture, right down to the way she sits. Nevertheless, she, like the rest of the cast, avoids caricature to create a convincing, fully-realised character.

Anthony Lamble’s set is similarly realistic, creating a homely atmosphere but while Octopus Soup! easily earns its laughs, its efforts at achieving a deeper meaning lack resonance. Despite Seymour’s impassioned speech against greed, this remains a fun but relatively superficial production.

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Entertaining farce with a moral message that delivers on laughs