By: Sam Tucker, TRP Reviewer
The Lyric was buzzing with excitement as an early evening show of Demon Dentist was about to begin. Every other seat seemed to have a child in it, ready and eager to watch the latest in a run of successful theatre adaptations of David Walliams’ highly popular books for children. My son is a big fan of the books and was really looking forward to the show. He was not disappointed! It had songs, it had jokes, it had jump moments – it had farts! It had a bit of everything and, in short, my son loved it (and I did too)!
Demon Dentist strikes a wonderful balance between laugh-out-loud funny, the grotesque and serious issues that children could face. The gruesome factor comes from Miss Root, the Demon Dentist herself, performed delightfully by Emily Harrigan. She is silkily evil and delights in frightening the children of the town (and audiences). Emily has some wonderful musical numbers, particularly her final number, and her acting skills match her clear singing and dancing talents. She oozes sickly sweet ‘charm’ and the audience are appalled by her attempts at niceness!
In sharp contrast, Sam Varley plays a youthful, energetic Alfie, and bounces around the stage with believable awkwardness and nervous energy. This helps highlight the fact that Alfie is a teenage young carer before he then has to tackle the arrival of Miss Root. Another highlight for me is James Mitchell who plays Dad. I was impressed by his touching and careful portrayal of Dad’s illness. Each time he took to the stage his body position showed us that his condition had worsened, which added a beautiful depth to the show.
Anyone who has ever read a David Walliams book will know the character of Raj. A firm favourite, Raj is the shopkeeper who seems to pop up in all of the stories to help save the day while making kids laugh with his funny special offers. Well, this Raj was no different. He is instantly likable and funny and has kids laughing out loud and giggling through his shop scenes.
This really was an ensemble piece, with the excellent quality of acting completely lifting each characters’ individual qualities. From the totally fabulous improv-crazed drama teacher to the frustratingly daft policeman, my son thought the show was “really fun to watch.” He did also notice that “the scariness of the book has been brought down a notch, so it’s truly a family show.”
The show’s set (designed by Jaqueline Trousdale) is larger than life and really effective in helping show different locations. Lots of stage magic helps bring the horror of Miss Root and costumes, also designed by Trousdale, are great at conveying character details. When I remembered that Winnie drives a motorbike I was curious about how it could be done on stage. Well, it was so much fun and all credit to Misha Malcom’s driving skills as Winnie – it must have been exhilarating, or totally nerve-wracking, to navigate driving at pace around the set and through the wings! I also imagine that Gabz had to hold on tight when Miss Root took the wheel!
As amazing as the whole cast was onstage, they were also lovely and generous with their time at Stage Door after the show. We were able to let cast members know what a wonderful show we thought it was, and James Mitchell (Dad) seemed genuinely touched that I noticed the details he had put in to demonstrate Dad’s declining health. My son has never managed to meet the entire company before and tick off every cast member in the programme, but he did! He’s thrilled, not just for the lovely messages written for him, but for the memories of chatting to theatre stars about their craft and being able to give feedback from those who matter the most – the children who the show is aimed at!
My son sums Demon Dentist up as “scary but magical, and full of joy, sadness, laughter and tears.” This show is highly recommended by us both!