Following the success of their award-nominated productions of Gangsta Granny and Billionaire Boy, Birmingham Stage Company are back with another adaptation of a David Walliams children’s book. This time it’s Demon Dentist, which promises to be the ‘funniest and most thrilling show yet’. Mummy and the munchkins caught the press performance at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford last week.
12 year old Alfie (Sam Varley) has a date with the dreaded dentist’s chair. He’s been putting it off for years but there’s a new dentist in town and one glimpse of Alfie’s rotten gnashers is enough to get him an appointment the very next day (a contender for most unrealistic plot point if the waiting list at our local dentist is anything to go by!) Not only does Miss Root’s arrival follow the sudden, suspicious (and rather gory) demise of her predecessor but it also coincides with some very strange behaviour from the tooth fairy. Ever since Miss Root (Emily Harrigan) arrived, children have been waking up to find all sorts of nasty surprises under their pillows from bat wings to eyeballs. Alfie and friend, Gabz (Georgia Grant-Anderson) are convinced that the new dentist is the root of all these mysterious goings on. Can they successfully unmask their nemesis or will their attempts to check up on her see Alfie and Gabz bite off more than they can chew?
Writing negative reviews is as enjoyable as a trip to the dentist but we’re sorry to say that we didn’t enjoy this one much at all. The cast are great, particularly Harrigan who is excellent as the villain, and Jackie Trousdale’s design is a highlight. Unfortunately, the plot is weak and lacks an engaging narrative. The story feels quite disjointed, with major plot points seeming to come out of nowhere, particularly towards the end. There is also an over-reliance on tired tropes and toilet humour. This is the sort of thing we might expect of a David Walliams story but it doesn’t have the redeeming features of Gangsta Granny which (as we said in our review last year) has a nice moral and includes some moving moments amidst all the silliness. Although there is an attempt to do the same thing in Demon Dentist, it just doesn’t land in the same way. We never really found ourselves caring for the characters even though Alfie starts off (as so many characters in children’s stories do) with a dead mum and disabled dad and ends up an orphan by the end. And just to add to the list of over-used plot devices, everything is fixed by the magic wand of adoption. Mummy had her head in her hands at the dreadful way this plot point was handled in the script, but this at least led to some positive conversations with the munchkins after the show about how unrealistically adoption is portrayed in the media. On the plus side, Demon Dentist portrays a social worker in a positive light, which is refreshing given that social services are rarely featured in theatre, let alone in a good way.
Overall, Demon Dentist is a disappointing production which left us feeling more like we had been anaesthetised than on the laughing gas. It’s the sort of show which is aimed squarely at children but does them a disservice by choosing cheap laughs over meaningful narrative. It also offers very little for the adults of the audience. While fans of the book may well enjoy the stage show, we think that there is much better theatre for young audiences out there. We want to see more venues and audiences taking the risk on fresh, brave productions that will really inspire children, instead of relying on the safe but distinctly uninspiring option of yet another David Walliams adaptation.
Demon Dentist played at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford from 6 to 8 October 2022. We received complimentary press tickets to the evening performance on 6 October.