The Octopus

by Anita Sullivan
The Octopus tentacle



A radio drama about animal consciousness, with an octopus as a lead character. Researched with generous help from the people and cephalopods at Plymouth National Marine Aquarium, The Marine Biological Association and Brighton Sealife Centre.

'The Octopus' is a BBC Wales production, broadcast October 8th 2013. Starring Amy Manson, Riann Steele, Aled Pugh and Ronan Summers.

Radio 4 Play of the Week

Produced and directed by James Robinson.

Duration: 44 minutes.


[Hester is on the seafront near the laboratory. It’s holiday time. Below and beyond her, the sounds of gulls, dogs, kids playing on the beach. Further out, outboard motors. We hear Hester’s thoughts.]

HESTER -I think. In a particular way. I look at the beach and see environments; boundaries defining where animals will thrive, survive, die. The shingle supralittoral zone supports only the toughest scavengers...

[Parent shouts to child. “Jamie! Come here!”]

HESTER -... and some ‘seasonal opportunists’. The rock-pools of the intertidal zone are rich in niche habitats, for those living life on the edge.

[Parent shouts to child. “Get off those rocks! I won’t tell you again!”]

HESTER -But step off the rocks and you cross a frontier.

[Local beach sounds fade. We’re with (young) Hester in her imagination, out on the water.]

HESTER -I was fourteen when I discovered it. My cousin... had a windsurfer.

[We are with young Hester, at sea. Flap of windsurf sail, board cutting through calm water].

LAD -Hester, come back!

HESTER  -He was older. He was a boy. So I had to be better: stronger, braver.

LAD -You’re too far out!

HESTER -I went so far the seabed fell away and I saw...

[Young Hester, breath. Wobble on board. Slowing.]

HESTER  -...a swaying forest of kelp. Thick arms of weed rising towards me... beckoning. A vertigo of bladed light slicing down... to haunted depths.

[Young Hester, breathing through nose. Effort with sail.]

HESTER  -I drift to a stop. Try to turn back. To float unnoticed over that eerie vault and whatever waits –watches- below...


HESTER -A movement below. Something large. A limb? A tentacle?

[Panicked out-breath. Sail-flap. Wobble.]

HESTER -I jerk, feet slipping, and plunge...

[Splash. Underwater.]

HESTER  -...into an icy current, down into primal dark where...

[Bubbles, flailing.]

HESTER  -...something alive touches my ankle!

[Screaming. Surfacing. Pulled under.]

HESTER -I fight. Water in my nose, eyes, mouth. I fight back, back to the air and my tiny raft.

[Back on board. Terrified.]

HESTER  -The shore is a misty line, miles away.

[On the board, chopping on the water. Up-hauling heavy sail.]

HESTER -Liquefied to my core,I tack gingerly home. Never to set sail again.

[Open ocean/ flashback fades slowly back to present.]

HESTER -So now... I don’t imagine. I face the sea with knowledge. I know how currents circulate; how the moon pulls the tide and the microscopic plants of the ocean power life on earth.

I know such things, because I’m a marine biologist. Because knowing separates us from dark terror. And being conscious that we know such things... makes us human.

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