“It must be very worrying to take a face like that out in the rain.”

Dora to Belle

The whole extended family has met for the golden Wedding Anniversary of Dora (Lindsay Duncan) and Charles (Malcolm Sinclair), with their grown up children, and grandchildren.  This will culminate in a ball for their neighbours but not a metaphorical ball.  

Lindsay Duncan is a most attractive and convincing actor and here as Dora she is playing a woman in her seventies with a waspish sense of humour.  Malcolm Sinclair as Charles is really no match for her in this household which seems to be run by women.

The octopus of the title is a metaphor for the tentacles that this family extends to all relations. You could benefit from a family tree of the children and grandchildren, the descendants of Dora and Charles in this sprawling play with a cast of twenty one. 

Bethan Cullinane as Cynthia, Amy Morgan as Margery and Jo Herbert as Hilda. (Photo: Marc Brenner

Two of their children have been lost, a son in the First World War and a daughter who has died in Singapore.  Another daughter Cynthia (Bethan Cullinane) has been estranged from her family because she was, shamefully for 1938,  living with a man married to someone else in Paris. 

The opening scenes were hard for me because I could not hear the child actor whom I do not name but who was asking questions about his relatives.  Critics in 1938 noted the lack of plot but the two stories I noticed did not raise me from feeling disinterested in the outcomes. 

Lindsay Duncan as Dora, Billy Howle as Nicholas, Bessie Carter as Fenny and Malcolm Sinclair as Charles. (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Nicholas (Billy Howle) the son in his mid 30s who hasn’t grown up might have feelings for his mother’s companion Fenny (Bessie Carter) who certainly is in love with him.  I am unsure why Dora needs a companion and how the status of a companion is so different from a servant and therefore suitable as a wife to the son and heir of this semi-stately home.  Maybe the local chicken farmer is a better prospect. 

Kate Fahy as Belle, Billy Howle as Nicholas, Lindsay Duncan as Dora, Arielle Elkins-Green as Flouncy, Isla Ithier as Scrap and Amy Morgan as Margery. (Photo: Marc Brenner)

The other story arc is welcoming Cynthia back into the tentacles of her family.  Dora’s sister Belle (Kate Fahy), twice married and now twice widowed is the butt of Dora’s catty humour about her bright red hair and heavy pan stick make up.  The rivalry certainly dates back to Belle falling in love with Charles who then married beautiful Dora.  Dora may look beautiful but I didn’t warm to her personality and malicious humour.  I wonder if she has a spotted fur coat.  Dora is always sending people on “little jobs” when she wants them out of the way.

This huge cast could have instead played Laura Wade’s magnificent The Watsons which needs a cast of nineteen, almost impossible in commercial theatre.

Dear Octopus is not so much a slow burn but a damp squib or should that be squid?

Lindsay Duncan as Dora (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Production Notes

Dear Octopus

Written  by Dodie Smith

Directed by Emily Burns



Malcolm Sinclair

Amy Morgan

Bessie Carter

Bethan Cullinane

Billy Howle

Dharmesh Patel

Kate Fahy

Lindsay Duncan

Natalie Thomas

Pandora Colin

Celia Nelson

Syakira Moeladi

Kalyani D’Ambra

Ariella Elkins-Green

Asha Sthanakiya

Tom Glenister

Isla Ithier

Molly Jin

Ashwin Sakthivel

Tarun Sivakanesh

Felix Tandon


Director:  Emily Burns

Designer: Frankie Bradshaw

Lighting Designer: Oliver Fenwick

Sound Designer: Ting Ling Dong

Composer: Nico Muhly

Movement: David Shrubsole


Running Time: Three hours including an interval

Booking to 27th March 2024


Lyttelton Theatre

National Theatre

South Bank

London SE1 9PX

Tube/Rail : Waterloo

Website: nationaltheatre.org.uk

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the

Lyttelton Theatre at a matinée performance on

17th February  2024