Photo: Marc Brenner

Novelist and playwright Dodie Smith is best known for her children’s book The Hundred and One Dalmations – yes, that one – but she wrote several plays in her lifetime, and we’re delighted that the National Theatre have revived Dear Octopus. The play debuted in 1938 and this is a quaint and charming revival which really seems to capture the essence of the time. Essentially it’s a family drama – it tells the story of four generations gathering over a long weekend to celebrate a golden wedding anniversary.

We’re introduced to Dora (Lindsay Duncan) and her husband Charles (Malcolm Sinclair) who have invited their extended family to mark 50 years together. They are both excellent – Duncan has an incredible array of witty remarks and backhanded compliments, as well as a wonderful knack for always finding little jobs for people to do, while Sinclair has a disarming warmth and softness but knows how to be direct when necessary – they complement each other perfectly. It’s a strong cast all round – the bickering children and the cheeky grandchildren all add to the perfectly balanced dynamic.

There’s an elegant simplicity here – it’s a play in which very little actually happens, yet it’s still remarkably compelling. Really we’re just watching a series of conversations unfold over the evening, but in amongst all the subtle jibes and withering remarks we witness family members figuring out how to interact together harmoniously after years apart. It’s a really rich, warm and charming play – there are moments of disagreement but ultimately the focus is on the human capacity to forgive, change and grow.

We had a lovely evening with Dear Octopus – it’s very much a period piece and that probably won’t have universal appeal, but it’s a wonderful revival of a smart and witty play nonetheless. The cast is universally strong and the production looks great too, featuring an impressive country house (with real fireplaces) created on the stage and some pretty costuming, too. Wonderful stuff.

GAY TIMES gives Dear Octopus – 4/5

More information can be found here.