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Plenty of belly-laughs in sharp comedy


Octopus Soup, Belgrade B2, Coventry, to Feb 16.

If you're looking for quirky farce look no further than the B2 stage at Coventry's Belgrade Theatre where last night (February 5) they staged the world premiere of Octopus Soup.

Written by Jack Milner and Mark Stevenson, it stars a host of familiar faces - people like Nick Hancock, who helped create and host the BBC's Room 101 and They Think It's All Over; then there's Paul Bradley of The Young Ones and EastEnders' fame; Eric Richard who has a 40-year acting career including 17 on The Bill; Gillian Bevan, who's notched up dozens of TV and Royal Shakespeare Theatre roles, and last but by no means least, Carolyn Backhouse.

Carolyn's another with film, TV and theatrical credits coming out of her ears - and she has a whale of a time playing Gloria, the edge-of-hysteria actress hanging on for the next big role.

Gloria is married to insurance assessor Seymour (Nick Hancock), who drops his trousers in the first five minutes leaving no need to anticipate that particular farcical trademark. But when not half-undressed Seymour wears two belts - the equivalent of belt and braces - to ensure he's ready for any eventuality...except for housebreaking. That's the speciality of bungling burglar Marvin (Paul Bradley), who is by no means as green as he's cabbage-looking.

But Marvin - a legend in his malapropisms - is getting on a bit. And as he explains to Seymour: "You get a pair of concrete slippers, not a carriage clock" when you retire from this game.

I won't reveal the whole complicated plot - or where the octopus comes into it - but the play, jointly produced by the Belgrade and Simon Fielder, does serve up quite a few uncomplicated belly-laughs, not to mention some rather sweet nuances.

Like the theme from The Godfather being the ringtone on the mobile of Mr Big; the terrific physical comedy from Gloria, and the sophisticated snideness of Gillian's Virginia.

Farce isn't my thing but the whole cast offers assured, well-paced and sharp comedy while highlighting more than a few dubious commercial practices.

Above all, I enjoyed watching this production in the intimate atmosphere of B2.

Hopefully it won't lose its punch in some of the larger venues on the run. The next stops include the Blackpool Grand Theatre, Darlington Hippodrome, Portsmouth, Windsor, and Cardiff.

For tickets go to: http://www.belgrade.co.uk/

Winner!