Octopus is a dystopian satire on the timely issue of Brexit and British identity. A nicely crafted play with the exaggeration of the characters showing up the cracks in commonly held societal beliefs. Octopus is simply but artfully produced and performed.
You’re an octopus. All mixed up, like me. One leg something, and one leg something else.
Octopus, by Afsaneh Gray, is a dystopian satire on the timely issue of Brexit and British identity. It’s currently playing at Theatre 503.
In this three-hander play, the actors each have dual roles. Along with their individual character, each actor plays the fourth in turn. That is, each girl is seen in the role of the departmental interviewer. There is a fine commensalism in the notion that any one can become instrument of authority.
The setting is the waiting room of a government office and three young women have been summoned by letter to attend an interview regarding their citizenship status.
Rebecca Oldfield plays Sarah, the very model of a modern English young lady. Sarah has no idea why she should receive this letter and is astonished to hear the reason for it. Evidently she is not as English as her appearance and background would have her believe. Oldfield is very comfortable in her character and believable as the changes in dramatic status occur.
Dilek Rose has the role of Scheherazade, who looks decidedly ‘foreign’ and who can’t spell her own name. Her citizenship is in question due to some missing information about her mother’s birthplace but, in effect, more due to her lack of income. Scheherazade is an artist and has yet to make a sale. Rose is vibrant and amusing in her role.
The final part of the business-like and brusque Sara is played by Alexandra D’Sa. It is lovely to see the moment of capitulation in Sara that is portrayed so finely by D’sa. Sara is very British in her manner and speech, whilst her looks tell of a heritage from another culture. Sara has lived all her life in Uxbridge and is a successful accountant. She rails against probing questions about her income and it is eventually revealed that her mother’s birth place is the root cause of her summons.
By appearance, this is a group of young women who can commonly be seen around town. The question becomes how many of us have unsuspected complications that don’t fit standard departmental boxes. More disturbingly though is when do these quirks become a matter for national security.
It is Scheherazade who compares the mix of background cultures and hence physicality of herself and the other two girls to the many armed octopus.
Afsaneh Gray has skillfully written a play charged with humour and sympathy for the protagonists. Like all good art, this play will have audiences questioning their response frequently throughout the narrative.
Pia Furtado’s directorial gifts have woven this complex script into an entertaining and through provoking tapestry; the scenes move swiftly from place to place and the actors revolve through their roles at the same lightning pace.
The set consists of 8 chairs and an office desk on wheels and changes in scene are affected by changing the configuration of the seats. Change in character is made by the simple addition of a headscarf. This is a very effective and neat device allowing for maximum flow of the narrative. The anarchic chaos of the final scene is delightful.
There is much to praise in Octopus and yet the piece, as a whole, is rather naïve. This is very much a piece of Fringe theatre – a good example of its genre and entertaining.