REVIEW: Demon Dentist – Birmingham Stage Company adapt David Walliams book
Birmingham Stage Company has crafted theatrical drama and mirth from David Walliams bestselling children’s book.
Demon Dentist is currently playing at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham.
Comedian, talent judge, actor and hugely successful children’s author David Walliams is proud of what Birmingham Stage Company have done with one of his books.
Birmingham Stage Company, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, was founded by Neal Foster, with Sir Derek Jacobi and the late Paul Schofield as patrons. The company has staged works by British authors and holds the record for producing more Roald Dahl stories than any other theatre company in the world.
Demon Dentist – which Walliams says is one of his personal favourites out of all the books he has penned – has been whisked into a theatrical confection by Birmingham Stage Company that appeals to children and parents.
Walliams’ books evoke the subversive and riotous material of Road Dahl who invented zany words to go along with his equally zany tales. Walliams taps into everyday situations which he mischievously turns into wicked and witty scenarios where children outwit adults and win the day against all the odds.
In Demon Dentist the children are leaving teeth under their pillows at night only to wake up in the morning to find grotesque and morbid things such as human eyeballs, rats, insects or flapping bat’s wings rather than the expected money. Alfie, a 12-year-old boy with poor dental hygiene who lives in fear of the dentist after a painful appointment, and his friend Gabz join forces and head off on a mission to find out why the Tooth Fairy is leaving odd things for children.
As Alfie and Gabz embark on their quest to find an answer to the mystery they discover something unexpected.
They discover the Demon Dentist…
Miss Root – as in root canal surgery – is a force of diabolical energy, a demon in dentist form. Miss Root has been invited to Alfie and Gabz’s school to talk to the pupils about the importance of dental hygiene and the horrors awaiting any naughty children who fail to brush and clean their teeth.
Alfie and Gabz discover that Miss Root’s strange tips for good healthy teeth includes eating lots of sugary things and brushing teeth with toothpaste laced with acid that can burn a hole through solid rock.
On the surface the story appears lightweight and resembles a pantomime with comical and goofy interludes aimed at a young audience. However, there is some serious material here, and Walliams is not afraid to add a dark and raw emotional edge to the story.
Poor Alfie’s mother has passed away and his father is losing a battle against bronchitis after years of working down the coalmine, while Aflie’s best friend Gabz seems to nursing some hidden trauma.
The show celebrates the spirit of heroism that resides in those nursing pain and grief, it throws a spotlight of strength upon the disabled, and it waves the flag for the small and meek who have reservoirs of love and light in their hearts. These inspirational heroes come from unexpected places.
Adaptor Neal Foster, who has received Olivier Award nominations for two earlier adaptations of Walliams’ books, has crafted a version that does full justice to the themes of the book. His lyrics add a joyous musical dimension to the story which helps to balance some of the darker material. The bonding between a father and son is conveyed with sincerity by Foster.
He ensures the material appeals both to children and parents, and his direction of the show keeps the audience engaged and riveted.
Jacqueline Trousdale’s set designs are amazing and really inventive. She crafts magic, and the sets and scenes change to vividly bring to life Alfie’s bedroom, his school, a railway station, a dental surgery, a newsagents and even a claustrophobic mine where Alfie’s father toils away in an infernal subterranean abyss.
Trousdale not only does a sterling job on the sets but she also weaves perfection in the costume design which helps to blend each character into the show without the need for too much exposition.
To compliment Foster’s beautiful adaptation of Walliam’s book, the cast of Birmingham Stage Company’s Demon Dentist bring warmth and energy to their roles.
Sam Varley (Alfie) and Georgina Grant-Anderson (Gabz) enjoy a tender chemistry which makes their friendship rich and real. Their soulful connection has depth, and the scenes with Aflie’s father are full of emotion.
James Mitchell plays the father with such realism that when he took a bow at the end and offered thanks with his normal voice it surprised the audience. In the story he played the role as a man with a husky and broken voice, and even his singing voice projected the same bronchitis-ridden hoarseness. Mitchell walked, talked and sang in a really compelling manner.
The character of Raj the newsagent has appeared in several books by Walliams and Raj is back in the Demon Dentist. The bumbling, but caring, Raj is played by Zain Abrahams in this production. He brings the right level of buffoonery into his performance without turning the show into a festive panto.
Emily Harrigan as Miss Root is feral and feisty without any trace of a fairy in her character.
Her white hair resembles a big whirl of ice cream, while her laboratory coat looks more like a variation on Count Dracula’s black coat given a white makeover.
Harrigan’s burgundy coloured leather pants are so tight that they seem to be spray painted onto her, and she prowls about like a snarling feline in an urban jungle. The black Dr. Martens completes Harrigan’s transformation into a hybrid gothic vampire with red lipstick on her lips that glistens like blood. Miss Root’s distinctive style would turn Rocky Horror Show’s Frank-N-Furter green with envy.
Demon Dentist is a laugh-out-loud and inspirational family show that celebrates the spirit of heroism in the most unlikely of places.
Demon Dentist is now playing at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham until Saturday 1 July