Review Roundup: DEAR OCTOPUS at The National Theatre

Dear Octopus will run through 27 March 2024.

By: Feb. 15, 2024
Review Roundup: DEAR OCTOPUS at The National Theatre
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The National Theatre just celebrated opening night of Dear Octopus by Dodie Smith. Directed by Emily Burns, in its first revival since the 1960s, Dear Octopus is a heartbreaking and moving dissection of family and what it means to grow up and return home.

When a golden wedding anniversary reunites the Randolph family on the eve of WWII, Dora and Charles must reckon with the adults their children have become. Their children, meanwhile, are haunted by the memory of the family they once were. As the weekend’s celebrations unfold, the family walks a tightrope between intimacy and estrangement, camaraderie and rivalry, love and hate.

BroadwayWorld has collected reviews from London's top theatre critics and you can check out their concensus below!


Cindy Marcolina, BroadwayWorld: It’s intriguing to explore this programming, as the play isn’t exactly a safe commercial bet or a mainstream piece that people will flock to attend. It’s actually quite lengthy for what it is and ultimately not entirely built for a public too used to streaming services and quick social media content. This said, powering through the unavoidable lulls of the text pays off beautifully: this is a gold mine of dry humour and psychological fun.

Marianka Swian, The TelegraphEmily Burns’s beautifully sensitive revival makes a persuasive case that Smith’s work has been unfairly neglected, as well as revealing the writer to be queen of the zinger. Imperious matriarch Dora, who is forever finding “little jobs” for everyone, gets the best of these acid putdowns, and the great Lindsay Duncan delivers them with the catty glee of Maggie Smith in her Downton pomp.

Clive Davis, The Times: Some of the dialogue is showing its age but Emily Burns’s direction supplies the Chekhovian polish that’s become almost part of the house style at the National. Sometimes you long for a little more pace and levity. But for all its occasional longueurs, the evening is lifted by an imperious performance by Lindsay Duncan as a grandmother presiding over golden anniversary celebrations that come close to being thrown off course by domestic tensions and romantic intrigues.

Nick Curtis, The Standard: Those seeking a gently witty, old-fashioned entertainment will be delighted by this stately revival of Dodie Smith’s portrait of a family from 1938. Four generations gather in a gaslit rural home to celebrate the golden wedding anniversary of formidable Dora (Lindsay Duncan) and solid, supportive Charles (Malcolm Sinclair) – leisurely, luxurious roles that fit these actors like chamois gloves.

Time Bano, The Independent: At the centre of the many-limbed octopus is Lindsay Duncan’s Dora, a gentle tyrant, constantly giving everyone “little jobs” to do: “Nicholas, dear, just check on the fire. Cynthia, dear, just turn these napkins into water lilies.” It’s a superb performance from Duncan, who holds onto both possibilities simultaneously that her Dora knows exactly how manipulative she’s being and that it’s all the innocent result of her innate guilelessness. She’s commanding but soft, regal but deeply loving.

Kate Wyver, The Guardian: This glorious revival of Dodie Smith’s interwar family drama is a visual and emotional feast. Director Emily Burns breathes rich life into a weekend gathering to celebrate the golden wedding anniversary of Dora (Lindsay Duncan) and her husband Charles (Malcolm Sinclair). Duncan is the most graceful of performers. Sharp and soft at once, Dora longs for everyone to spend time together yet is unable to walk into a room without hastily sending everyone out with a job to do. In the rare moments when she pauses for breath, the delight she takes in her family knocks the wind out of you.

Dave Fargnoli, The Stage: At the outset, a palpable sense of disappointment hangs heavily over this bustling household. But as the characters methodically talk through their issues, the mood lightens, replaced with hopefulness and warmth. Gradually, the play reveals itself as a touching celebration of enduring love, family and forgiveness.

Julia Rank, London Theatre: A gorgeous evening that deserves to spread its tentacles further than this limited run. Terence Rattigan has had his well-deserved reappraisal; surely now it’s Dodie Smith’s turn.

Caroline McGinn, TimeOut: It’s a period curiosity, basically. But this is a pleasant revival. Emily Burns directs with a lightness of touch and finds moments of charm and comedy. The darker depths of World War before and World War to come are unmined, just implied slightly by a few empty portrait frames hanging above the stairs. I felt by the end as if I had actually been a guest at a slightly boring, ultimately heartwarming family party – complete with some dodgy singing round the piano from granny and an overlong toast. Which is not something you necessarily need to go to the theatre for.

Lucinda Everett, Whatonstage: Critics at the time noted that the play was light on plot. And it’s certainly not a nail biter. There are a few more urgent storylines driving things — a romance, the reunion of Dora and Cynthia – but for the most part the action is a series of familial vignettes that ask us to reflect on life’s big questions. Why do we still flock to our families, in spite of everything they put us through? What does it mean to love? And to age? How should we be spending our time? Yes it’s not a plot in the traditional sense of the word. But then, what better plot is there than this bewildering, wondrous life?

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner


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