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Review: Octopolis

Love, grief, academia and an octopus


An aquarium-like atmosphere with subtle lighting and tranquil bubbling sounds immerses you in Professor George Grey’s apartment as soon as you walk through the door, preparing the audience for this theatrical emotional cataclysm staged within the intimate space of Pembroke New Cellars.

Octopolis follows the assured and sharp Professor George Grey (Rossy Wippell), whose intellectual and emotional world unexpectedly collides with eager and ambitious anthropologist Dr Harry Giscard (Jacob Coughlan), who is determined to explore his new theory in relation to her tentacled research subject, Frances. The audience is the silent spectator their unravelling complex relationship, which flourishes through their academic disputes and emotional intrigue with one another. Special praise rightfully goes to directors Anna Peterson and Alice Weatherley for bringing this incredibly witty and intellectual script to life. Through their insightful production and staging, they beautifully harbour the emotional and physical intimacy between the characters. 

Image credit: Alice Weatherley

The two actors did not leave the stage for the whole duration of the play (1 hour 45 minutes) mastering the great feat and keeping the audience hanging from their every word. Both Wippell and Coughlan gave emotionally nuanced performances, successfully capturing the subtleties as well as the extremities of emotion their characters experienced. Coughlan’s Harry is charmingly awkward at first but unapologetically determined to his cause, challenging the equally stubborn Professor Grey. Wippell’s Grey perfectly encapsulates the emotional fragmentation that comes with grief while consistently leaving the audience in amused giggles with her perfectly executed sarcastic comments. 

The emotional tug of war the two characters were engaged in, was fantastically captured by the actor’s energetic bickering, through which they delved into humanity’s complex relationship with faith, religion, love and loss. Both actors alternately took control of the narratorial steering wheel and shared their internal monologue with the audience, expressing the human desire to unpick and comprehend one another’s emotional worlds. Even though there were traces of opening night nervous jitters in the performance, it is justifiable considering the mammoth amount of complicated lines the two actors had to commit to memory.

Image credit: Alice Weatherley

Greatly enjoyed by the audience were the highly entertaining drunken conversations and spontaneous David Bowie dance parties shared between the characters, the use of bubbles a playful touch which allowed for a lighthearted breather. The minimal amount of props used allowed the actor’s physical movements and gestures to visually guide the audience inviting us to imaginatively enter the character’s space.

Image credit: Alice Weatherley

A production detail I particularly enjoyed was the changing words projected on the ceiling, signifying a movement through time; a constant looming reminder of the passing of time. Another highlight was the multi-coloured aquarium fish tank in the middle of the room, allowing Frances’ presence to infiltrate the room. While the fluctuating intensity of the lights was an effective way through which the audience caught glimpses of Frances and were guided through emotional fluctuations, it was occasionally distracting.

What I loved about this play was the fact that the intimate space encouraged the audience to go on the emotional rollercoaster alongside the characters, to empathise and appreciate the authenticity of their humanity. This play will make you giggle, gasp, tear up and more importantly, reflect on the fundamental aspects of the human experience. What else could you ask for from a Cambridge theatre night out!

4.5/5

Octopolis is showing in Pembroke Cellars from Tuesday 20th – Saturday 24th February. Buy your tickets here.