From EastEnders to the West Midlands – Paul Bradley stars in Octopus Soup! at the Belgrade

What do you get if you cross an uptight insurance man, a bungling burglar with bad knees and an escaping octopus called Terry? The answer is Octopus Soup!, a brand new comedy making its world premiere Belgrade Theatre this February ahead of a UK tour.

Belgrade Theatre Associate Artist Joe Harmston (The Father, The Prodigals) returns to direct the world premiere of this hilarious new farce, starring Nick Hancock (They Think It’s All Over, Room 101) as failing insurance consultant Seymour, alongside Nuneaton-born Paul Bradley (Holby City, EastEnders) as his burglar-turned-business partner, Marvin.

The story begins with a botched burglary as Marvin breaks into a house that he believes to be empty, only to find Seymour at home preparing or an important telephone call with corporate bigwig Virginia. Unsurprisingly, the call doesn’t quite go according to plan, but after a quick conflab about their equally catastrophic careers, the two decide to solve their problems by striking up a dodgy deal together.

Ahead of the show, we caught up with Paul Bradley to find out a bit more about what to expect from the show.

What attracted you to Octopus Soup!?

 I was sent the play quite a while ago and it made me laugh out loud when I was reading it. I don’t get sent many plays but the ones I do if they make you laugh and you think ‘I really want to do this’… and this one made me think ‘Oh gosh, I really want to do this!’

What’s in store for audiences who come along to see it?

 I tell you what I really like about it: It’s very warm and it’s very funny and it’s got a point. Sometimes you go and see a comedy and that’s absolutely fine that you spend the evening laughing, but here you spend the evening laughing and sort of having a little think afterwards. Just a little think, not a huge think. Well, maybe a huge think. The size of the think that you have after watching this play is completely up to you.

Tell us about your character?

I play Marvin and he’s an inept burglar at the end of his career. On this evening he’s had a message from his boss saying ‘You’ve got to get your act together or you’re in serious trouble’. So the stakes are very high for me and I burgle this house and unfortunately because I’m so inept, the person who owns the house is there. We get chatting and together we come up with a scam that is very original and could possibly work. Things develop from there really.

Can you relate to him in any way? And what are the big differences?

 I relate to him in that I too am an inept burglar. I’ve tried a few houses and I always get caught. Like him I’m probably at the end of my career and have stolen things from people – no, just performances!

I think he’s well-meaning. He’s not terribly violent, he’s sort of jogged his way through life and now feels the pressure to really up the game and perform. This opportunity arises and he just goes ‘This is too good to be true, I’ve got to follow it through and do something’.

What challenges does the play present to you as an actor?

 The way it’s written is it’s got a really fast tempo to it, but you have to make the plot and the relationship between the characters very clear. As in any comedy, the misunderstandings have to be crystal clear. So it’s a challenge and I think it’s a brilliant challenge.

Have you worked with any of your fellow castmates before?

 I have. Well, with Carolyn Backhouse [who plays Gloria] I said to her the first day, ‘It’s lovely meeting you, I’ve heard a lot about you but I’ve never met you,’ and she said, ‘We went on holiday together!’ I threw my mind back over the years and sure enough we had! Not together Biblically but she was in a play that a couple of my mates were in so I went to see them in Spain and spent about a week there and she was there as well.

Gillian Bevan [who plays Virginia] played my wife in Holby City and I had an episode where she went off to euthanase herself. Is it euthanase or euthanise? Anyway, old-age-erise herself. In this episode with Gilly we went to Geneva and she was going to bump herself off and I tried to stop her, unsuccessfully. I seem to have a history of unsucessfullness. Anyway, we’ve worked together quite a bit.

Nick [Hancock, who plays Seymour] I didn’t know before, but I’m a big fan of his work. And Eric [Richard, who plays Alan] and I did a couple of Holbys together and of course I used to watch him on The Bill. So this is a nice little compact team with a combined age greater than the Rolling Stones, I think!

What sets Joe Harmston apart as a director?

 He’s punctual and very imaginative and he listens to people and then ignores them. No, what’s quite nice is that in the early stages he lets you do what you want, then we pull it together. It’s quite freeing and you don’t feel constricted from the start. It’s a play where looking at people and where you are and plot points have to be put carefully and he’s very good for saying ‘Right, we’ve got to tell that bit of the story there’ and ‘We can take that down’. It’s lovely working with him.

What do you feel makes farce so appealing to theatregoers?

 Farces are like real but the worst day of your life for the people who are in it. The thing that the play does is heighten things. Everyone’s at a state where the stakes are really high and things are terribly important and for an audience you can laugh at it because it’s not ridiculous, it’s very heightened. I think audiences get onto that wavelength of panic.

All the characters want something. Sometimes it’s greed but I think it’s something that people relate to, like: ‘I want to sort out my life. I want this to succeed so that I can have a peaceful life and settle down with a family’. Like anyone, if you see a chance for financial security it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go out burglarising [laughs] but it’s an option.

Having done long stints on EastEnders and Holby City, is it nice being able to mix things up now?

 It is, yes. I came from theatre originally and it’s what I did most of. I’ve done things like Noises Off which is if not the best farces ever then certainly one of them. You realise that the mechanics have to work as well as having the intention. The physical mechanics have to be like clockwork but then your job as an actor is to not make it look like clockwork – to make it look like it’s happening in that moment. That’s the challenge of doing comedy, I think: Doing something that’s quite constricting and sometimes a joke will only work if certain things are happening and if they don’t you don’t get the laugh.

In Noises Off I had this sure-fire laugh every night and then I lost it. I said to the deputy stage manager ‘Why am I losing that?’ and she said ‘Because somebody is entering upstage and opening a door and of course everyone looks up there when you’re doing it’ so she was told not to do that and I got the laugh back.

Do you have any pre- or post-show rituals?

I brush my teeth and I have clean underwear just in case there’s an accident and I get taken to hospital. But no, not really. Like any other actor I get p****d before the show. Not really. Drugs mainly!

What’s the one thing you couldn’t be on tour without?

 I usually bring either a ukulele or a guitar and have a little strum but not during the show, obviously.  I love going on tour because the charity shops are better outside London. I do a quick trawl on the first day and come back with all sorts of junk that my wife is always pleased to see, like ‘Ah, skis!’

Octopus Soup opens at the Belgrade Theatre Coventry 2-16 February ahead of a UK tour. Tickets are available to book now by calling the box office on 024 7655 3055 or visiting www.belgrade.co.uk where prices are even cheaper.

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