Socialist Worker

New play Octopus pokes fun at racist assumptions of what ‘Britishness’ is

'Octopus' challenges racist assumptions and Paul Mason’s new play fails to breath life into the story of Louise Michel’s exile after the defeat of Paris Commune in 1871.

Issue No. 2553

Octopus play interrogates what it means to be British

Octopus play interrogates what it means to be "British"


Writer Afsaneh Gray’s play is a witty interrogation of “British identity” and racism.

The three women protagonists Sara, Scheherazade and Sarah have been hauled up to check their family background.

In the opening scenes Scheherazade (Dilek Rose) and the government interviewer talk past each other.

There’s no reasoning with racist immigration rules.

All three are loaded with their own liberal prejudices about what it means to be “British”.

Sarah (Samara MacLaren) had gone on a fictional “Better Together” march for unity.

At the beginning she’s at pains to tell Sara (Alexandra D’Sa), whose parents were from India, that she didn’t vote for the policy that has brought them to the interrogation room.

To her shock, middle class accountant Sara initially supports it.

By the end, the Guardian-style liberalism definitely comes off the worst as Sarah admits to looking at Muslims with backpacks with suspicion.

Through the process of going through interviews, the play satirically unpicks the characters’ prejudices.

That’s where its real strength lies, and by doing so it shows some of the reality of racism.

Octopus is showing at Greenwich Theatre, London SE10 8ES. Tickets £11 touring until 28 June. For details go to uktw.co.uk

Actors stuggle to breathe life into story of Louise Michel

Paul Mason’s new play tells the story of Louise Michel’s exile on the Pacific island of New Caledonia after the defeat of Paris Commune in 1871.

Michel was legendary for leading hundreds of women workers to take control of the French government’s cannon on Montmartre hill at the start of the rising.

The play itself focuses on the defeat, exile and Michel’s support for a revolt by the native Kanaks.

This is an important subject for a play, but the actors struggle to breathe life into a script that’s heavy on filling in the back story and light on dramatic tension.

For anyone interested in the Paris Commune, the play raises some interesting questions but suffers from a flat and overly didactic tone.

by Colm Bryce

Divine Chaos of Starry Things by Paul Mason showing at the White Bear Theatre, London SE11 4DJ until 20 May. Go to whitebeartheatre.co.uk

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