BWW Review: TEETH 'N' SMILES, Stockwell Playhouse
Sir David Hare invited us into his private hell back in 1975 when Teeth 'n' Smiles opened at the Royal Court (natch). In real life, he was the play's pathetic posh Cambridge student trying to deal with an utterly indisciplined band, booked for Jesus College but more interested in the sex and the drugs than playing the rock 'n' roll. The May Ball does go on though - as did Sir David and his show's star, Dame Helen Mirren, their radical roots now much obscured by huge success.
This production, directed by James Thacker at the newly re-branded Stockwell Playhouse, updates Hare's early 70s action to the "Punk's Not Dead" pre-Thatcher summer of 1978, with a little less acid and a bit more speed, but the same clashes of culture and the same long (two and a half hours!) and talky script, interspersed with screaming punk numbers from a live band. Yes, I felt like I was almost "16 Again".
And that's the main problem with the play - why revive something so rooted in the 70s and done so many times since? We all know the guy shooting up is in for a sticky end and we've all seen a love triangle play out to the dissatisfaction of all. Without seasoning by the biting one liners of a Michael Frayn or an Alan Bennett, the over-familiarity of the set-up soon drags. A more personal gripe (though it's always an important element for this reviewer), is that none of the characters are likeable at all - come 10.00pm, I was glad to be shut of their company, no matter how many points may or may not have been made about The State Of The Nation.
The musician/actors do what they can with the dated script. Molly Ward packs plenty of energy into her boozy, ballsy singer Maggie but, honestly, what punk diva would be called Maggie, even if she were once a teenage folkie? Her Nastassja Kinski Cat People hairdo looked fab, but it jarred insistently against her credibility as a Patti Smith like figure. Richard Holliday does what he can with Saraffian, the band's unscrupulous Svengali-like manager whom we've seen a thousand times before and Matt Jopling ponces about like a young, irony-free Neil Tennant as pretentious dropout Arthur, songwriter and ex-paramour of Maggie. A word too for put-upon gopher, Laura, an underwritten part rescued by the excellent Elle Banstead-Salim and Alex Britt's splendid turn as the hapless Hare character.
And that's about it I'm afraid. I failed to discern any specific reference points to 2017 nor learn much about 1978 (though, since I was "there" to some extent, that might be unfair). I had forgotten how commonplace it was to use any allusion to non-heterosexuality as an insult though. One sees a lot of revivals in London's fringe theatres and I'm grateful for the opportunity to enjoy so much stuff that might otherwise simply disappear forever. Though, in this case, that fate is not undeserved.