What does it mean to be British? That’s the question that underlies this political, anarchistic play Octopus. Set in a future where Britain has closed its borders and the state now defines quite forcefully what it means to be British, it couldn’t be more topical amongst the post-Brexit mess still hanging over our country. And the writer, Afsaneh Gray, has done well to show what a mess British identity really is.

Each has their own quirks that occasionally break the deep, political issues with original jokes that don’t fail a laugh

The small, box theatre that makes up the stage is perfect for the play’s location, a deportation office where we meet three women who are being interviewed about their British identities. Each of them have been called in for an entirely different reason but still each of them hold an element of what it means to be typically ‘English’ – here unfortunately being used as synonymous with British. They are forced to defend their nationality and background to the state or risk deportation.

The characterisation of the three women’s ‘Britishness’ is where the strength of this play lies. The writer pits three entirely contrasting personalities against each other: the tolerance spouting, prejudiced white woman; the sharp, all-knowing business woman; and the endearing artist living off benefits to help her get by. The actors are perfectly suited for their roles, embracing the craziness that builds up in their characters as we learn to love them and their stories. Each has their own quirks that occasionally break the deep, political issues with original jokes that don’t fail a laugh.

Britishness and immigration are not the only political issues that run through this play’s narrative. Racism, islamophobia and others manage to jump in there as well, at times making the play feel a little overwhelming. Combined with some intricate metaphors, it often feels like some of the issues are braised over momentarily but never fully covered, sometimes being dropped before we see more. That said, the play never feels too heavy. The light hearted jokes and crazy – almost nonsensical – transitions between the scenes give the audience the chance to see some relief from the real-life problems these people face.

Octopus is the perfect play to show at a post-Brexit Fringe festival. Although it seems strange at first, the seemingly random musical and anarchistic bursts eventually fit into place as we see the characters develop against each other. By the end you really grow to care about the characters and begin to see that each in their own twisted way really are British, as in reality there’s never been a set definition. Although the ending is enough to leave you laughing, the play’s unique way of addressing the issues of modern day Britishness give you a lot to think about as you walk away.

Reviews by Megan Atkins

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The Blurb

Set in a world where 'Britishness' is state defined, three women decide to resist definition altogether. And form a punk band. An anarchic new comedy by Afsaneh Gray (2014 Royal Court studio group), presented by Paper Tiger Productions and Fine Mess Theatre (2015 Les Enfants Terribles Edinburgh Award for Divas winner). 'Subtle and very funny' **** (Stage). 'Ingeniously twisting narrative' **** (Fest). 'A gripping story: go see it for goodness' sake' **** (BritishTheatreGuide.info).