Review: Demon Dentist. Nottingham Theatre Royal

Going to the dentist will never be in anyone’s top 10,000,000 things to do. And perhaps because my lasting memory of my own dentist is a pale, surly woman standing by the window applying a thick slick of blood-red lipstick – as if she was circling an advert she was very interested in, whilst glaring ravenously at a miniature poodle minding its own business – yes, I always felt a somewhat sinister and macabre undertone to visiting the dentist.

I get a similar sense tonight, though thanks to an absolute wonderous combination of a creative, colour popping set design and general joviality, I sit amongst the young children this evening and enjoy a much lighter tone.

Never a massive fan of David Williams myself (and thrilled he’s been replaced by Bruno’s majestic blazers on BGT) I do appreciate and respect his phenomenal book sales – anything that captures the interest of children and their families is a wonderful thing. And there’s no denying he has an immense talent for creating wonderful stories and characters that generally fall into the lovable and the monstrous. Demon Dentist is a perfect example.

It begins with 12-year-old, Alfie; carer to his sick father, shockingly poor (indicated by the imaginative way his bed legs comprise of books and an old paint can) and petrified of the dentist. So, when children start complaining of vile, putrid things left under their pillows in exchange for their teeth, he’s a tad concerned when the new dentist, the devastatingly striking Miss Root, has come to talk at their school assembly. To make matters worse his enthusiastic new social worker, Winnie, has booked him an appointment which doesn’t exactly go trauma free. Alfie and his best friend, Gabz, get on the case to find out exactly what Miss Root is all about – demon dentist, or just plain demon? ‘Come to Mummy!’ she bellows to the children as she gravely assesses their pearly whites (I mean, that was never nice coming from my own mother, let alone this psycho).

Adapted and directed by Neal Foster, this story is fast-paced, punctuated perfectly by Jason Taylor’s effective lighting design and the Tim Burton-esque composition (all hail Composer, Jak Poore, and Sound Designer, Nick Sagar here – just fabulous) A sort of sinister fairground music emphasising the moments of Miss Root’s delicious evilness perfectly. Combined with the masterclass of Jacqueline Trousdale’s set design, it’s a real delight to take the visuals in; the way the colourful bricks burst and adapt to a series of different locations: Alfie’s home, Raj’s shop – even the opening scene of the children’s individual beds are intonated by their nightlights.

The songs, although few and far between, aren’t particularly memorable, but certainly sprinkle feeling and meaning to the show; Alfie and his dad’s duet is poignant and tender.

Sam Varley’s portrayal of Alfie is animated and hugely energetic, but for me verges on the annoying. However, the children in the audience respond well to him, and after all, the story is wholly aimed at them. James Mitchell as Alfie’s dad is honest and gentle, though I feel his grand finale a little rushed.

Emily Harrigan as the ominous Miss Root is certainly a beauty, statuesque and charismatic with a strong stage presence. I understand her youth and performance lends a lighter touch to the young audience, but I fancied Miss Root to be deceptively older, with skin pulled taught and teeth as big as the moon – that’s for another show, me thinks.

We meet local shop keeper Raj, played by Zain Abraham, quickly into the second act, and its him I feel the audience really connect. Clearly a talented performer, Abraham buzzes with dynamism and momentum, capturing all our hearts and attention – his stand off with a loose eyeball is my favourite moment.

Misha Malcolm is just lovely as the social worker we wish they call could be. Her disposition reminiscent of bubbles and delight – we felt her pain when the chocolate fanatic got very unlucky with a bag of Revels (we’ve all been there, Winnie!)

Ben Eagle as PC Plank enjoys some key moments within some wonderful calamity of pantomime chases – he perfectly interprets the timeless adult getting shown up by the wiser kids.

Aaron Patel and Mia Overfield are truly wonderful as the ensemble – it really is a small cast and they support swift scene changes with ease and precision – very impressive.

But my favourite tonight: Georgia Grant-Anderson as Alfie’s best (and definitely NOT girlfriend) Gabz. Spunky, wilful, funny, sassy, intelligent; Gabz is our own little detective on the case for us immediately (she’d have been a phenomenal Hermoine!!!)

You can easily derive certain issues prevalent today, such as Alfie acting as a young carer to his sick dad, and it’s certainly what gives Walliams stories the heart and soul they’re known for. Admittedly it leaves me very nostalgic for the work of the great Roald Dahl, however, tonight is a wonderful family show and at 1.5 hours including the interval – it’s just what the dentist ordered.


Demon Dentist can be seen at Nottingham Theatre Royal from April 20 to 23.


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