Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 26th October, 2022
Hot on the heels of Gangsta Granny, Awful Auntie, and Billionaire Boy, comes this latest stage adaptation of a David Walliams novel. Demon Dentist is in similar vein, with all the Roald Dahl-esque features we have come to expect, but with this story there is an extra frisson of horror. Of course, bung ‘dentist’ into the title, and you’ve got a head start when it comes to frightening people!
The story begins with the Tooth Fairy leaving horrible things under kids’ pillows. Instead of shiny coins, they find dogs’ tails, dead mice, squashed toads. Then a new dentist comes to town, offering ‘special’ toothpaste and sugar-free sweets… and the mystery deepens. It falls to 12 year-old, dentist-phobic Alfie and his friend-who-is-a-girl Gabz to investigate.
Leading this excellent ensemble is Sam Varley, who is instantly appealing as big-hearted, bad-toothed Alfie; I’m convinced he is genuinely a schoolboy claiming to be a much older actor rather than the other way around! And when he sings, it’s spine-tinglingly good. Alfie is a carer for his dad (James Mitchell) who is debilitated by a case of black lung from his time as a coal miner. Their relationship is the emotional heart of the play, and the two of them tug at your heartstrings.
Georgia Grant-Anderson is great fun as Gabz, while Misha Malcolm’s social worker Winnie navigates the fine line between broad comedy and touching drama. Extra comedy is added by Zain Abrahams as newsagent Raj (a recurring character in these stories) and Ben Eagle as PC Plank. There is also strong support from Aaron Patel and Mia Overfield in a range of smaller roles.
Emily Harrigan really gets her teeth into the role of Miss Root the evil dentist , like Cruella de Vil taking on NHS patients. A proper, scary villain, Harrigan belts out songs one minute, makes malicious threats the next, all the while looking fabulous. Here the humour is at its darkest and most delicious.
Neal Foster’s direction keeps things moving. There’s a lot of fast-moving action, plenty of fart jokes, and some effective moments of suspense and surprise, but it’s the emotional beats that kick you in the teeth. This play really does have something for everyone. Listening to the children in the audience alternate between screams of laughter and screams of, well, screams, adds to the gruesome, silly fun. It’s a perfect family treat for Halloween and the Birmingham Stage Company have yet another hit on their hands.
You won’t be needing nitrous oxide for this show to make you laugh.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Sam Varney (under the cat), Emily Harrigan, Georgia Grant-Anderson, and Misha Malcolm