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The Great Pacific Octopus Maritime School: Q&A with Manjinder Virk

5North and Ellie Keel Productions’ Written on the Waves, a series of world premiere audio plays – the penultimate play, and first for a family audience, in the series is The Giant Pacific Octopus Maritime School by Jaclyn Backhaus and directed by Jessica Rose McVay, CEO and Creative Director of 45North.

Manjinder Virk

What’s it like once the Earth’s surface is uninhabitable? Well, if you ask Priya and Ilya, citizens of a newly constructed underwater society, it’s pretty boring. That is, until their discovery in the basement of their school catches the eye of the base’s omnipresent AI system. The Giant Pacific Octopus Maritime School is an ode to what we will have left behind once we retreat to the depths of the sea.

Manjinder Virk answered a few questions about the production.

Q: Can you tell us about the production and what it has been like recording in an audio play format?
Manjinder: I loved the play when I first read it, Jaclyn has created a fictional world under the sea which you want to know more about and delve deeper into. The play is about how humanity has had to create underwater societies as the Earth has become uninhabitable but in that society, everything is run by technology. Recording this was tricky as we had to record remotely – so we had to be the actor and the technician! Thankfully we had a great team and a
technical run the day before which helped us all feel at ease.

Q: What problems have you had to overcome recording the piece during a pandemic?
Manjinder: It felt like quite a responsibility to be in charge of recording your own material in your home. There were things that we couldn’t control like internet cutting out – anytime one of the actor’s lines cut off we would say it cut out and we would start that sentence again so there was always a clean version. Jessica was very clear in her directions and we had sound technicians who were thorough. It was great to know it’s possible to record this way and everyone was very patient, despite the technical difficulties.

Q: Can you tell us about Seema and her role in the production?
Manjinder: Seema, (Surinder Dawson) is a geologist who studies life on earth, she wants to get back to earth and always saw the underwater society as a temporary solution. Her husband died and she is also a single mother to Priya, 12.

Q: Who should listen to the production and why?
Manjinder: When I read this I told my daughter, who is 11, about the story, and she was utterly intrigued. I wanted to do the project as I knew she would love the world Jaclyn has created and also the story of a daughter discovering who her mother was/is. I think it’s a story for adults and children and fascinating for the times we are in.

Written by Jaclyn Backhaus
Directed by Jessica Rose McVay

Jaclyn Backhaus is a playwright and screenwriter based in New York City. Her plays include Wives, India Pale Ale (Horton Foote Prize, 2018), Men on Boats, and You on the Moors Now. In addition to her writing, she is a co-creative director of arts facilitation group Fresh Ground Pepper and a teacher of playwriting at New York University.

Adjoa Andoh plays Emma.
Sam Crerar plays Ilya.
Andrew Gower plays Guy.
Amita Suman plays Priya.
Manjinder Virk plays Seema.
Jessica Rose McVay is Creative Director and CEO of 45North.



  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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