15 October 2016

Octopus at Theatre503 was a little gem


Octopus was only on at Theatre503 for one week and with four other theatre dates that week I struggled to find time to see it, but struggle I did and I made time on Saturday evening to see the final performance. That made it five theatres in six nights.

I was keen to see Octopus as it was billed as a political play looking at immigration. Besides, I like to see everything at Theatre503 because everything that I have seen there has been good.

The lateish start of 7:45pm worked well for me. I could spend the day doing weekend things like shopping for buttons, have tea at home then head out to the theatre around 6:30pm. That got me there just before 7:30pm which would normally be time for a beer but the antibiotics meant it was another dry evening.

It was busy in the waiting area but I was alert enough to be one of the first into the theatre and so was able to claim what I now think of as my seat, the one in the middle of the front row.

Octopus was set in the near future where the UK had left the EU, Scotland had left the UK and England was trying to manage its "immigration problem".

As part of this three people, all women incidentally, were in a waiting room prior to seeing an immigration officer. One looked Middle Eastern, one Indian and one indecency white. They talked about why they were there and they all thought that they had good reasons to be in England.

But the two non-white women had some worries. The Persian heritage woman was an artist so was well under the £50k earning threshold, £50k under in fact, and while the Indian heritage woman earned more than that she was concerned that her earnings would fall if, for example, she had to stop working to care for an elderly relative.

They took it in turns to go into the office to see the immigration officer. The three actresses took it in turns to play the officer, a transformation they achieved simply by wearing a headscarf. The officer's nationality became an issue for the other women who were expecting more sympathy from her.

At the heart of the play was a discussion about national identity. All three women had reasons for being worried about having their nationality questioned and were naturally worried about what happened to them. A year ago we would have happily accepted all of them as British but Brexit changed that.

It was a simple message to give but it was not a simple play and the giving of the message was smartly done. The scenarios were convincing, the characters were realistic and related to each other very well and there were plenty of nice touches like the little snatches of music. Any play that ends with the cast singing the Sex Pistols' God Save the Queen gets my vote.

Octopus was a little gem. Just the sort of play that I expect from Theatre503 and just the sort of play that I love to see.

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