Ever since the Brexit vote earlier this year, the rise of race-related hate crime in the UK has increased exponentially. In conjunction with this, Home Secretary Amber Rudd has tried (albeit unsuccessfully) to get companies to declare how many non-British personnel they have working them... Afsaneh Gray's play Octopus, which is close to finishing its run at Theatre503 makes for unnerving viewing, as its satrical elements become more prescient by the day.
Directed by Pia Furtado, Octopus focuses on three young women who are brought in for questioning regarding their ethnicity and information regarding their finances. In the UK today, it is governent policy for non-EU citizens to earn a specified amount, or risk being deported. Within the play this policy is more vigorously enforced, so that even for people born on this country, if at least one of their parents is not 'British' or 'European'/Caucasian and their falls below a certain threshold, they are in danger of deportation.
There's Sara (Alexandra D'Sa), an accountant who actually voted on the present government's policy. She earns more than £70k, but her non-British mother who never sought citizenship proves to be all the excuse the authorities need to bring her in for questioning. In contrast Scheherazade (Dilek Rose) is an artist who doesn't earn money from her work. A fan of the anti-Establishment aspect of punk music, she's also of Jewish and Muslim heritage. Then there's Sarah (Rebecca Oldfield). On the surface there's nothing from her pedigree or appearance that one could be suspicious of. But scratch the surface and there's more than meets the eye...
For a play that tackles a very pertient development in today's world, Octopus is at times amusing without succumbing to farcical comedy. The checklist mentality of the status quo is well-observed, as well as the unpolitically-correct assumptions that even the most liberally minded people are harbour.
Plays like Octopus are vital for asking questions about today's society and holding a mirror to its actions. It may not be like the 'state of the nation' plays of yesteryear, but is no less needed during these days of turbulent change.
© Michael Davis 2016
Octopus runs at Theatre503 until 15th October 2016 (3pm/7.45pm).