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Review: Octopolis, Hampstead Theatre - Academics, an octopus and David Bowie

Jemma Redgrave and Ewan Miller in Octopolis_3_credit The Other Richard
Jemma Redgrave and Ewan Miller in Octopolis, Hampstead Theatre 2023. Photo: The Other Richard

Princess Diana's famous line: 'there were three people in my marriage' is given an eccentric twist in a line from Marek Horn's Octopolis: There were three people in my marriage... and 12 legs.

The legs refer to Frances, an octopus living in a tank in the home of Professor George Grey (Jemma Redgrave). She and her recently deceased husband have been studying Frances.

Anthropologist Dr Henry Giscard (Ewan Miller) is sent to stay at George's University-owned home and immediately clashes with the prickly, grieving Professor.

George continues to write papers on Frances, and Henry has his research to gather information for, but they find begrudging respect for each other in their mutual love of David Bowie - and debates about Frances.

Henry believes he can prove that Frances believes in a God, but George thinks that is nonsense and has her own ideas with which to dismiss his theory.

Their heated discussions about animals, humans, feelings and souls are peppered with asides, little observations of each other often delivered with deadpan wit.

There is admirable dexterity in both performances and some equally admirable dance moves when a dance-off to the beats of Bowie songs drowns out their differences.

I've seen Octopolis described as a romantic comedy, and it does have a few laughs. However, given George and Henry's acute intellect, I wanted their relationship to be cleverer. The possibility of romance felt pretty apparent from early on.

It is an interesting play in that you learn a lot about octopuses, but the lengthy discussions about religion and what animals can and can't understand felt like an exceptionally niche frame through which to explore relationships, grief and faith.

While Octopolis has moments that burst off the stage, its eccentricities and set-up don't always hold attention.

I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 

Octopolis, Hampstead Theatre

Written by Marek Horn

Directed by Ed Madden

Starring Jemma Redgrave and Ewan Miller

Running time: One hour and 40 minutes, including an interval

Booking until 28 October; for more information and to book tickets, visit Hampstead Theatre's website.

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