Copper turned Robber: The Bill's Eric Richards stars in Octopus Soup!

Posted on 22 January 2019

What do you get if you cross an uptight insurance consultant, a botched burglary 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.

Telling the story of a failing insurance man who winds up striking up a dodgy deal with the man who tries to rob him, this razor-sharp farce features a fabulous cast of five, with familiar faces including ex-TV host Nick Hancock ( They Think It’s All Over, Room 101 ) and Paul Bradley ( Holby City, EastEnders ), as well as long-running The Bill star Eric Richard.

Known to millions as Desk Sergeant Bob Cryer – a part he played for an amazing 17 years – Eric Richard now swaps his copper’s uniform for a criminal makeover as the menacing gang boss Alan in this hilarious home-grown show.

Ahead of its opening 2-16 Feb, we caught up with him to find out a bit more about what to expect.

Octopus Soup

What attracted you to Octopus Soup!?

Joe Harmston [the director]. I’ve worked with Joe before. He’s a good bloke. We’ve done three shows together now and he is the kind of bloke you want to go back and work with again. It’s that simple. And then you get offered the play, so I hear from my agent ‘Joe Harmston wants you to do a play with him,’ and I’ve almost said yes before I’ve read it.

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

It’s in some ways quite dark, certainly very funny, it’s fast-paced, and features five wonderful characters. For me that’s the art of what we do for a living: yes, you can have wonderful, wonderful writing but you’ve got to engage the audience through the storyteller, the character, the actor.

Speaking of which, how would you describe the character of Alan?

He has a line where he says, ‘I prefer black market entrepreneurs,’ and that’s exactly what he is himself – a black market entrepreneur who is capable of doing anything he wants.

Can you relate to him in any way?

He’s certainly completely different from me. The only thing we would have in common is that we both come from a working class London background, so getting the voice right for him is not terribly difficult. But I’ve never been attracted towards the criminal world – I’m not one of these people who brags about knowing gangsters or hanging out with people who carried razor blades or whatever.

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

I think because it’s a farce and very funny and there’s a lot of action in it, I’m enjoying the technical aspects of it. You’ve got to be so precise. This kind of writing is like a piece of music; you can’t blur the notes, you’ve got to be on the note and we have to be on the note all the time.

Octopus Soup

Have you worked with any of your fellow castmates before?

When Paul [Bradley, who plays Marvin] was a regular on Holby City I went in as a guest and did two episodes back-to-back. With Paul playing the doctor at the time he and I had quite a bit to do together. But that’s it!

How is it working with them now?

Terrific. It’s a joy to work with this company.

You mentioned working with Joe Harmston before. What sets him apart as a director?

Without a doubt the bottom line is that he’s a good bloke. Joe is a really good bloke and you would want to spend time in his company. On top of that he’s also very good at his job. He’s very clear about his intention, which is what an actor needs most of all. And probably equally important, he can interpret that for you so the questions he’s asking you are never blurred. You’re very sure about the question that you’re being asked.

What do you feel makes farce so appealing to theatregoers?

I think the draw of farce is that the characters are real but in an unreal situation. And because the characters are real then we can draw you into their world, even when it’s an insane world they’re inhabiting.

Octopus Soup

After being on The Bill for 17 years, is it nice being able to mix things up?

Yes it is, although when I was on The Bill – and it’s relevant to the kind of actor I am – is that I was there for 17 years and in that 17 years I did four stage plays, I directed three plays, I did a variety of programmes on television, not acting but on television. I’ve always been someone who doesn’t want to be stuck in just one groove.

You’ve worked extensively on stage. What do you most enjoy about doing theatre?

It’s the human connection. There was a company called Shared Experience, which was well-known because it was a small-scale touring company, and that says it all – you the performer are sharing the experience. I did a small play not so long ago at the Finborough, which is a very tiny place, and my character was an old Irish fella. He was gonna die at the end of the play and during the course of that play, with people sitting so close, I would know when they were going to laugh at his antics and I would hear them cry when they knew he was going to die. I mean, that’s priceless. The lens, we love it. Technically you can come in so close but that thing of knowing that you’re doing something that’s directly affecting another human being…

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

I have no superstitions and it kind of varies. It’s a bit like an athlete; you time yourself from the moment you come into the building so by the time you hit the stage you’re really on it. It’s like a 100-metres runner where there’s the warm-up, then there’s that last moment where they’re on the blocks and they might just do that thing of hitching their shorts or they might flex their shoulders and ‘Go!’ It’s a bit like that for us, I think.

Octopus Soup

And when you’ve finished a performance?

That obviously depends on what you’ve been doing on stage. If you’ve been playing a dark play that can be quite difficult because you’re very into yourself and you might need to just be in your dressing room for ten minutes or so, just to give yourself a bit of time to clear your head. If you’re on an up and it’s been a great night out you almost can’t get out of your costume quick enough to go and be with your mates or if you’ve got your family or friends in to see the show and rejoice in what you’ve been doing.

Octopus Soup! makes its world premiere at the Belgrade Theatre 2-16 Feb. Tickets are available to book now.