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Thirty Two Teeth
Published on Saturday, 20 August 2011

3 stars

C venues - C soco (venue website)
3-14, 16-29 Aug, 3:20pm-4:20pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

A chilling psychological drama crossed with a fairytale, Thirty Two Teeth adeptly taps into both the dark side of childhood, and the innate horror we all feel when we contemplate a trip to the dentist.  It starts with a hideous image - let's just say that pliers are involved - but develops into a subtler, edgier exploration of earlier traumas, with a plentiful serving of fantasy on the side. The package didn't quite work for me, but the ideas are intriguing and the acting is unquestionably fine.

After a beautiful, mysterious opening monologue - one of the most cooly believable performances I remember seeing from an actor of this age - we meet the three young protagonists, who we soon learn are sharing a moment of crisis at the birth of a premature child. Jacob, himself a "miracle baby", has an idea to save the helpless youngster; one that first seems mad, but soon becomes twisted and, ultimately, surreal. There's a big, big surprise about a quarter of the way in, and if you haven't guessed what it is I wouldn't dare spoil it for you. Let's just say the trio entertain a visitor who, in the style of the genie from the lamp, may or may not be bent to their will.

The unwilling guest herself is granted the most striking role, and she uses her latitude well. Always active, but never distracting, her physical performance captures madness and darkness alongside a childlike simplicity.  There are some clever ideas: it seems she can't speak in her captors' presence but is talkative when they're out of the room, so we, the audience, know more about her story and motivations than the characters on stage. But I felt she was a little too ephemeral; our glimpses into her life posed a few too many questions, many of which were never quite resolved.

The play suffers, too, from some very static staging; neither expansive nor claustrophobic, at times it just feels dull. It pains me to say that, because there's much which should hold interest in the multi-layered script, which first hints at and then reveals an unspoken childhood terror.  The storyline relies a little too much on coincidence but ultimately carries it off, largely through some spine-tingling interventions from the visitor, who proves able to voice the characters' own dreams.

The ending is believable and quiety horrific - though a little too sudden for my taste - and overall, the shadowed fairytale evoked by the script is curiously convincing. With a little more to engage the eyes as well as the ears, this could be a darkly macabre piece of theatre. As it stands, there's still plenty to get your thirty-two teeth into.

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