Demon Dentist – Milton Keynes Theatre

Reviewer: Kerrie Walters

Writer: David Walliams

Adaptor andDirector: Neal Foster

With his back catalogue of best-selling children’s books capturing the imagination of little minds all over the UK, it is little wonder that Demon Dentist has been adapted to a piece of touring children’s theatre.With his signature combination of contemporary wit and, let’s be honest, grisly humour, Walliams has created a tale loved by both young and old.

The story follows Alfie, a young boy traumatised by a past visit to the dentist who lives alone in a bungalow with his terminally ill father. The doddery old dentist dies in mysterious circumstances and is replaced by the formidable Miss Root; weirdly, her arrival in town happens to coincide with some strange and sinister goings-on – as children lose their teeth and place them under their pillows for the tooth fairy, they are waking up to discover that, instead of a shiny pound coin, a ghastly trick has been left there instead. Twitching eyeballs, flapping bat wings and dead mice are being left under the pillows of sleeping children all over town. But why could this be happening?

All becomes clear when Miss Root (Emily Harrigan) leads a school assembly giving out free gifts of acid toothpaste and teeth-rotting sweets. But is she evil? Or is it just in Alfie’s head?

Harrigan is deliciously malevolent as Miss Root. A towering figure she is a walking dialectic. Statuesque and glamourous, graceful with a sickly sweetness and all the cartoonish menace of a Scooby Doo villain, she is commanding and bounces well off the other cast members. She particularly shines in the second act as Miss Root’s wickedness is finally exposed in the chasms of an old coal mine. The young audience is audibly impressed with her performance, screaming and booing. She leaves their hearts beating so fast that they can hear it.

An ensemble show, there are stellar comic performances from Zain Abrahams as Raj, the shopkeeper who appears in every Walliams story, and Mischa Malcolm as chocolate-loving social worker Winnie. Both have the young audience doubled over with laughter as they break the tension of the story with their comical antics.Naturally, as this is a Walliams story, there are a lot of fart jokes and general toilet-based humour that these two performers execute to perfection. In an incident pertaining to some coffee-flavoured revels, Winnie farts so hard that she blows Alfie’s dad’s wheelchair backwards leaving the young audience in uproarious laughter.

Malcolm is particularly entertaining as she bursts into Alfie’s drama class on her moped in her efforts to get him to the dentist’s appointment. Naturally, the drama teacher sees this as the perfect opportunity for improvisation and a farcical chase sequence ensues. This sequence has all the hijinx of a Benny Hill sketch and draws to first act to its climax beautifully as Winnie completes her mission.

Sam Varley in the central role of Alfie is the master of his craft. He has a youthful charm about him and simply exudes innocence. His rapport with his ailing dad (James Mitchell) is heart-warming and the two share some beautiful moments throughout the show. The ‘close your eyes and imagine’ sequence where Dad explains to Winnie all the incredible adventures he would take his son on if only he were able-bodied is beautiful to watch. Mitchell rises from his wheelchair and for a moment the audience gets a glimpse at what might have been. Varley switches rapidly between these dramatic tender moments and the downright silliness of the rest of the play. It is this juxtaposition between the sweet, silly and sinister that makes this story such a hit with its target audience and Neal Foster has balanced these elements to perfection.

Indeed, Foster has created a tightly directed piece of children’s theatre that brings the book to life with effervescent energy. There are moments of side-splitting laughter, beautiful musical theatre, pantomime chases, devastating losses and some impressive jump scares. The Birmingham Stage Company is, of course, known for its high-quality adaptations of children’s literature, and it can rest easy knowing that this latest addition is a triumph. It has been beautifully designed by Jacqueline Trousdale as a kind of quasi pop-up picture book, key pieces of set pop out and just as quickly disappear as the story gathers pace. Using signifiers in this way works well and the lighter pieces made from wood pallets in Act I contrast spectacularly with the ostentatious set pieces of the final showdown. There are scenes in Act I, particularly, set within the school, where it feels that there is a little too much set prominent within the scene as a way of masking the sparseness of the actors’ staging, however, these moments are fleeting.

This show is pacey with a running time of two hours including an interval and will enthral and delight the children. Some scenes within the second act are a little spooky and jumpy as the story reaches its apex, but it is wickedly entertaining. An excellent night out and a well-put-together piece of children’s theatre,Demon Dentist is a high-quality rollercoaster of a show that will be sure to entertain young and old alike.

Runs until: 26 March 2023 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

A show that does exactly what it says on the tin!

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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