Review - White Teeth at the Kiln Theatre

White Teeth
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Date: 
Wednesday, 7 November, 2018
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There's a raw, ragged and baggy charm to the portrait of a local community in White Teeth, Stephen Sharkey's new stage adaptation of Zadie Smith's debut novel White Teeth, originally published in 2000 when she was just 24.

As that novel is set in and around the very streets of NW6 -- where the Kiln Theatre itself is located -- it also has a powerful local connection. And that's what we see when we enter this theatre -- a replenished and lavishly rebuilt version of the Tricycle that used to be here, which has played and will continue to play such a central part in its local community: Tom Piper's set offers a view of Kilburn High Street (much as the current Young Vic Twelfth Night puts a vista of a Notting Hill street on view).

But for all that ready charm -- and the spirited sense of infectious energy expended by the 14-strong cast -- the show is never quite sure what it wants to be. Is it a play? Is it a musical? Is it a revue?

There's certainly a lot of cheerful songs that keep interrupting the action more than advancing it, by composer Paul Englishby. Indhu Rubasingham's production feels at times like it is wrestling with a python, having the life it is seeking to portray so vividly crushed out of it by the relentless need for dramatic momentum.

As it is, it is full of light and colour, but not enough shade, as we follow the fortunes of two families -- the Jones and Iqbals, living in the area. It is framed by an intervention of the adaptor who casts the action as a memory play as a local dentist Rosie Jones finds herself in a coma, from which she time-travels to the past to try to find out the truth about her parentage.

Some of this is muddled, some of it is affectionate, but then life is messy. It is also crammed full of incident and coincidence, as well as weightier themes about genetic engineering and radical Islamic fundamentalism.

While the cast bring plenty of vivid commitment to the stage, even their best efforts can't ultimately rescue it. But Rubasingham is nevertheless to be commended for aiming high in bringing this local story to a local stage; it's only a pity that the higher you aim, the further you can fall.

White Teeth  is currently on at the Kiln Theatre until 22nd December 2018. 

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