Review: Demon Dentist at Sunderland Empire
Demon Dentist by David Walliams
14th July 2023
Back at Sunderland Empire for the first time in a while this evening and there is always a lovely warm welcome. Today it was awash with excited children and the queue to the confectionary concession was inundated with them. The staff are always great at Sunderland Empire but a special mention to Simon today who was great with all the little ones.
Onto the show. The tooth fairy has gone missing and children are waking to find the teeth they have left under their pillows have been replaced with all manner of unpleasant things such as bat wings and mice. Not a nice thing to wake to when you are expecting a nice golden pound coin. What has happened to the tooth fairy? Which abominable entity has taken their place? Who is the mysterious new dentist who has just arrived in town?
Sleuthing their way to solving the mystery are Alfie, a young man who has not been to the dentist since a rather unfortunate incident some six years prior to the action and his friend – who is a girl – Gabz, and definitely not Alfie’s girlfriend.
Alfie is adorably played by Sam Varley and he really brings the part to life showing the angst, nervousness, and loveable nature of the character. He sings the songs beautifully and his duet with his dad (James Mitchell) in the second half is very heartfelt and emotional. His relationship with NOT his girlfriend Gabz (Georgia Grant-Anderson) is also one of genuine friendship and mutual headbutting that you may see on any school playground. The characters in this rather silly story are believable and likeable – mostly.
The set is beautifully painted in a fittingly cartoon style and it is very clever with trucks moving on and off the stage to represent streets, school corridors and Alfie’s living room with ease. The choreography between the characters and the stage crew is very slick indeed and some of the magical effects in the second half had the audience gasping in delight. I do feel that the tech brought in by this production is under-sized for the large venue which means the sound is difficult to hear at times and the limited of front lighting makes the overall effect looks a little gloomy in places.
That said the entire audience whooped and cheered at all the requisite moments and there was a warm glow to the atmosphere at the end as the cast took their deserved bow.
All of the small cast of this production works very hard to bring the story to life and none more so than Misha Malcolm as Social Worker Winnie and Zain Abrahams as shopkeeper Raj, both of whom bring their own warmth to the over-the-top characters that they are portraying. The villain of the piece, Miss Root (please call her ‘Mummy’) is played with great and gloriously evil joy by Emily Harrigan who delights and terrorises from the moment she arrives to her inevitable and deserved boos at her curtain call. The cast is completed by Ben Eagle as PC Plank and making up the other roles is an ensemble of Aaron Patel and Mia Overfield.
I have seen quite a few children’s book or TV series stage adaptations over the last couple of years or so and I really enjoyed this one. There is something for everyone in this production and is great fun from beginning to end. There are songs by Neal Foster and Jak Poore, a suitably scary baddie, some gentle love stories, and a peppering of toilet humour to keep the little ones and the not so little dads in the audience chuckling to themselves. Do stay well away from Miss Root’s toothpaste, tooth brushes and special sweets though if you know what is good for you.
The kids will love this show so get them along to The Sunderland Empire where The Demon Dentist will see you until Saturday 15th July.
– Stephen Stokoe
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