We’re back at the New Wimbledon Theatre, which plays host to many big touring productions, for the show based on David Walliams’ smash hit book, Demon Dentist. I have my trusty reviewing sidekicks with me again. At 12 and 13 I’m taking a big risk with this one as they may be a little long in the tooth (sorry), although they did love this book back in primary school.
Meet Alfie (Sam Varley), a boy who is traumatised by a past dental visit and who lives in a town where strange happenings are afoot: children are placing their precious, recently extracted teeth underneath their pillows but are waking to find no shiny pound coin treasure, Instead, there is the most ghoulish and nauseating menagerie of items including twitching eyeballs, still-flapping bat wings and grisly, jammy nail clippings (all excellent special effects by the way). Why is this happening? Alfie and his bestie Gabz (Georgia Grant-Anderson) are determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, and when a new creepy and frightening dentist introduces herself at the school assembly, it’s not long before the riddle starts to unravel.
There are some joyful, energetic and comic performances in this production, notably Zain Abrahams as newsagent Raj (who my daughter described as living in the Walliams multiverse), James Mitchell as Alfie’s dad and Misha Malcolm as Winnie; all personal favourites of our group. There are some impressive vocals too – it’s not a full on musical but there is a satisfying sprinkle of enjoyable songs that really lift the show. The costumes and sets are fantastic with some nice, intricate, multiple use of the flats and generally a very inventive use of the space. There were some issues with the dry ice towards the end of act two during which we were almost a minute into a scene and we still couldn’t see any of the stage! I suppose this adds to the spooky theme, but it was a shame the actors were hidden for a while.
The young children in the audience gave an uproarious reaction throughout the show and the target audience would certainly be ages 5-9. There are plenty of belly laughs, but I did see a few children who were quite scared and a child a couple of seats down from us left in the second half after attempts to reassure her. My guest reviewers are, as expected, too old for this show as the level of humour they appreciate is much more sophisticated; but to be fair it wasn’t aimed at them. They did have strong views on the adaptation though and felt it didn’t quite have the same amount of charm and charisma as the book. They also felt the scenes could have been set up with more detail and are at times rushed and anti-climactic.
The appeal of Walliams’ characters still shines through, but the script is at times lacking something special. I’ve seen so much children’s theatre over the years and this doesn’t have to be the case just because of the intended age of the audience. Some of the repetitive jokes did feel like we were pulling teeth (sorry again), but one can’t deny that there was fun to be had and the show brought plenty of joy to hundreds of children in Wimbledon tonight.
Based on the book by: David Walliams
Adaptated and directed by: Neal Foster
Design by: Jackie Trousdale
Lighting by: Jason Taylor
Music by: Jak Poore
Sound by: Nick Sagar
Choreography by: Paul Chantry and Rae Piper
Produced by: Birmingham Stage Company
David Walliams’ Demon Dentist played at New Wimbledon Theatre until 22 October. The show tours throughout 2022 and much of 2023. Further information and dates can be found here.