Reviewer's rating

I am a scuba diver and spotting an octopus is a thrill; to see the eye watching you from under a rock, or moving in the water and changing colour at will to match the surroundings, is magic. Those who have seen the incredible documentary ‘My Octopus Teacher’ would never want to eat one again. Their intelligence, with nine brains and two hearts, is phenomenal. Pet lovers understand the strong bond between human and animal.

Marek Horn wrote Octopolis inspired by the discovery of an octopus community (they are naturally solitary creatures), living together and accommodating each other in Australia – as Harry later describes it – ‘a kind of flat share’.

Horn’s brilliantly original and witty play, Octopolis is about an octopus, a biologist, and an anthropologist, professional close observers, who observe the octopus and each other. The dialogue is witty, clever, informative, sad, moving, funny, with academic banter about tomato plants and shamanism, or a suggestive discussion about catching molluscs.

Professor George Grey (Jemma Redgrave), a celebrated behavioural biologist, mourns the recent death of her husband; since then, she has stopped teaching, reading or answering emails, becoming a recluse, living in university accommodation, relying on Frances the octopus, in a tank, for emotional support.

It starts with a bang when Harry Giscard (Ewan Miller), unexpectedly appears in George’s home, sent by the university; Frances didn’t read the email informing her of his arrival. Harry Giscard, is an ambitious anthropologist sent to research Frances (and George), and write a study paper on the findings.

Witty one-liners, four letter expletives and asides take the audience into their confidences – there were three people in my marriage…three people and twelve legs’.

Frances lives in a huge tank filling the back of the stage, changing colour and bubbling according to moods, with the feeling that it is Frances studying humans on stage and in the theatre, not the other way round.

You never see Frances, but you feel her; the water colour changes with Frances’ moods. Could Frances believe in God, if Frances believes God is George and her husband who provide food when she changes the correct colour? George has relied on Frances to keep her going since her husband’s recent death. If Frances believes in God, does she also have a soul, Harry wonders? Their worlds overlap but they act and think differently, gradually developing feelings for each other.

We never see the octopus, more about the tentacles of the past which take hold and the inability to see through them to have a ‘now’ and a future. As George pointed out, there is never a now. Because now, is already in the past. Which is why the scenes are either ‘in the past’ or ‘in the future’.

The play is satisfying on many levels with strong believable performances from Redgrave and Miller.  It is intellectual, understandable, not over-cerebral. The discussion of interaction between humans and other life forms, is fascinating. It is witty, clever, and one feels palpable loss when Frances inevitably dies (they usually only live for a year).

George is trapped in her box. Does she take up Harry’s offer to release her from her box and study octopus in the Polynesia with him? Or does she obtain another octopus to continue her research? What does she mean by ‘to have been in your thoughts is to have stood in the sun? The viewer must decide.  I think she would join him as the twin attraction of octopus and Harry, are too strong.

Musical interludes are broken up by dancing to Bowie – Miller is a good dancer, and Redgrave has fun. My only criticism is that the dance scenes could be cut to half instead of a whole number; it stops the action and lengthens the play.

This is a very enjoyable and different piece of theatre. Catch it while you can.