Tag Archives: Joe Harmston

Octopus Soup!

Theatre Royal Windsor & UK Tour

Octopus Soup

Octopus Soup!

Theatre Royal Windsor

Reviewed – 1st April 2019



“In spite of the dogged efforts of the cast, the audience just didn’t get many of the jokes”


Billed as ‘an instant modern classic like ‘The Play that Goes Wrong’’, Jack Milner and Mark Stevenson’s ‘Octopus Soup!’ is a new British farce, developed and premiered by the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, before a national tour which continues to May 4.

Where would theatre be without farce? At its best and in the hands of masters like Ayckbourn or Feydeau its ingredients are brilliant wit, sexual intrigue, and a lot of ‘business’ as comedic stereotypes get utterly confounded by impossible situations. But is the recipe right for this particular bouillabaisse?

‘Octopus Soup!’ has an accomplished and hard-working cast, admirably led by Nick Hancock, who helped to create and then presented ‘Room 101’ for seven years from its inception in 1992. He plays the risk-averse but increasingly desperate insurance man Seymour Norse who is about to make the biggest presentation of his life to the CEO of GIT, a troubled insurance company (an authoritative and satisfying performance by Gillian Bevan, who recently appeared as Theresa May in Channel 4’s ‘The Windsors’).

Before a word of dialogue is spoken, Seymour Norse has lost his trousers. A predictable enough part of the mix, but pretty wasted at the top of the show. The arrival of a blundering burglar (a smart performance by Paul Bradley) stirs up the plot, which then takes a few fishy twists before a fairly predictable ending. Norse’s nervy wife is wittily played by Carolyn Backhouse, a regular at the Chichester Festival Theatre. Eric Richard makes a satisfying appearance as a nasty underworld boss with a taste for seal sanctuaries. Terry the octopus twitches, a bullet is fired. Thanks to a well-known casserole company, which got the biggest laugh of the evening, someone is dead, or are they? So much for the slide presentation and for the plot, which stretches pretty thinly over the evening.

Actors often say that a play that seems lack-lustre one night will shine the next, simply because of the mood of one audience compared to another. I have to report that the audience in Windsor on Monday weren’t hungry for octopus soup. The fault seemed to lie not with the performances, or the set, or even the slightly dodgy sound effects, but with the writing. Many of the jokes relied on fairly improbable malapropisms of the ‘Ethics? – I come from there!’ kind. In spite of the dogged efforts of the cast, the audience just didn’t get many of the jokes, particularly in the limping first act.

The final line sank like a damp soufflé, and the cast seemed only too quick to leave the stage.


Reviewed by David Woodward

Photography by Robert Day



Octopus Soup!

Theatre Royal Windsor until 6th April then UK Tour continues


Previous shows covered by this reviewer:
Teddy | ★★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | January 2018
The Rivals | ★★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | March 2018
A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | May 2018
Jerusalem | ★★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | June 2018
Trial by Laughter | ★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | September 2018
Jane Eyre | ★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | October 2018
Murder For Two | ★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | February 2019
The Trials Of Oscar Wilde | ★★★★ | Theatre Royal Windsor | March 2019


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com


The Rubenstein Kiss

The Rubenstein Kiss

Southwark Playhouse

The Rubenstein Kiss

The Rubenstein Kiss

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 18th March 2019



“The urgency of the writing is matched by an outstanding cast across the board”


Just before sundown on Friday 19th June 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sent to the electric chair in New York’s Sing Sing prison, accused of passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Proclaiming themselves innocent, to the point of martyrdom, right up to their deaths, the couple were the first American citizens to be executed for espionage. That they were sacrificial lambs to McCarthyism is generally undisputed, but a further twist to the case was that it rested on the testimony of Ethel’s brother, who decades later told reporters that he lied to protect his own family.

With name changes for dramatic licence, their haunting true story is the basis of James Phillips’ “The Rubenstein Kiss”, which takes its title from the famous photograph of the Rosenberg’s kiss in the back of the prison van before their execution. The fictionalised version of the photograph hangs in an art gallery in the mid-seventies; where young law student Matthew (Dario Coates) meets, seemingly by chance, history teacher, Anna (Katie Eldred). From this, again seemingly, light-hearted vignette of the courting couple we are suddenly swept back to Esther and Jakob Rubenstein’s starkly furnished New York apartment in 1942.

What follows is an utterly compelling and thought provoking two hours of theatre. The essential beauty of Phillips’ play is that it perfectly combines the brutal political and social impact of the historical facts with a profound and deeply moving study of two connected families across two generations. The dialogue shoots straight to the heart of the characters’ innermost concerns, showering us with the impossible questions about morality, loyalty, betrayal, truth and patriotism at such a divisive time in America’s history.

The urgency of the writing is matched by an outstanding cast across the board. Henry Proffit and Ruby Bentall, as Jakob and Esther Rubenstein, both capture the unwavering passion and blind resolve of the doomed ideological couple; Bentall quite simply riveting in her final scenes under interrogation by Stephen Billington’s cool, chilling yet ambivalently sympathetic FBI agent, Paul Cranmer. Sean Rigby’s sensitive portrayal of the traitorous brother saves him from villainy and, like his fiancé, Rachel Lieberman (Eva-Jane Willis) shows that the choices we are forced to make are never clear cut. In fact, collectively the entire cast allow the audience the freedom to make their own conclusions.

Under Joe Harmston’s vital direction, the interlocking strands of the narrative, aided by Matthew Bugg’s swooping sound design, seamlessly cut between the forties and the seventies. Dario Coates and Katie Eldred as the young lovers brilliantly depict their struggle to find their own identity, frantically looking for a truth that can help explain the past.

This production grips throughout, and while being a truly enthralling history lesson, it is essentially a haunting, poignant, sublimely crafted and superbly acted piece of theatre.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Scott Rylander


The Rubenstein Kiss

Southwark Playhouse until 13th April


Previously reviewed at this venue:

<!—previous shows insert –>


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com