Seymour may have convinced his boss to give him the time of day again, but I’m not sure he could persuade the audience. Katie Graham reviews Octopus Soup:

A new British farce by Jack Milner and Mark Stevenson, Octopus Soup relies on buffoonery and horseplay, crude characterisation and ludicrously improbable situations that create comedic effect. And while objectively it contains all of these elements, the overall show falls flat.

Anthony Lamble‘s set initially inspires confusion. We take our seats to the soundtrack of Dancing In The Moonlight and gaze on retro furniture and a mind-map centralised around the ‘global financial crisis’. Is this going to be some political commentary? Fortunately, disregarding a newspaper headline about Brexit and some pointed remarks comparing insurance brokers to criminals, it is not.

Octopus Soup Belgrade

Gillian Bevan, Carolyn Backhouse, Nick Hancock & Eric Richard (image courtesy of Robert Day)

Perhaps that’s partly why Octopus Soup gets off to a slow start. Another possibility is that the acting is simply too good. An odd concept, but when Nick Hancock strides out on stage as Seymour Norse, he appears so blissfully unaware of the audience that we feel intrusive, leading to some awkwardly stilted laughter as Seymour puts on a second belt and prepares his career-changing PowerPoint.

Writers Milner and Stevenson state,

“We only write things that make each other laugh. We’re not trying to do things with a particular audience in mind.”

This is evident throughout. What leaves half of the room roaring in laughter falls flat on the rest on the audience. Thankfully the show, and the audience, warm up after the first half hour, and by the interval the room is practically buzzing.

Octopus Soup Belgrade

Paul Bradley, Carolyn Backhouse & Nick Hancock (image courtesy of Robert Day)

Little set changes between the acts aren’t needed as Lamble’s design works well. Paul Bradley does well as bumbling burglar Marvin Haynes, and Hancock’s pained facial expressions bounce off Bradley’s daft dialogue nicely. As Octopus Soup progresses, the dynamics between Seymour and Marvin improve significantly, culminating in an amusing moment where the two men wrestle over a toilet.

As expected with a farce, the dichotomy of the characters works to great effect, particularly where underworld boss Alan (Eric Richard) and Virginia (Gillian Bevan) interact. Milner and Stevenson’s writing really comes into its own here, with each character holding concurrent conversations of endless double meaning and innuendo. Gloria however is the epitome of crude characterisation, and while Carolyn Backhouse plays this stereotypically hysterical wife well, the character swiftly becomes grating and exhausting to watch.

All in all, Octopus Soup as a production is lacklustre. With less ‘laugh out loud’ moments than an octopus’ tentacles, something is obviously missing. And it certainly isn’t a 60-slide PowerPoint.

 

★★★☆☆

Octopus Soup plays at The Belgrade Coventry until 16 February 2019 before a UK-wide tour. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the venue website.