Kiln Theatre, Kilburn
Director: Indhu Rubasingham
Starring: Ayesha Antoine, Michele Austin, Amanda Wilkin, Tony Jayawardena and Richard Lumsden
By Lauren Codling
WHEN adapting Zadie Smith’s hugely successful novel White Teeth into a full-length theatrical piece, there must have been pressure on the cast and crew to capture the warmth and heart of the original perfectly.
Focusing on the lives of two wartime friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal, and their families in Kilburn, north London, the iconic British novel was Smith’s breakthrough work and widely acclaimed by critics and readers alike.
Smith, a fresh Cambridge graduate at the time, was regarded as the voice of modern, multicultural Britain.
It must be intriguing for fans to finally experience White Teeth as a living, breathing art form at the newly refurbished Kiln Theatre.
To see it presented as a musical must be even more enticing – who ever thought we’d see Archie and Samad performing a synchronized tap dance together?
Directed by the theatre’s artistic director Indhu Rubasingham, White Teeth is brought to life within a set that is essentially a cut-out version of Kilburn High Road.
With an added element of music, the feel-good choreography and lyrics help the story and set come to life. Composed by Bafta nominated Paul Englishby, it acts as a great additional element to the narrative.
The opening scene where the cast strut down Kilburn High Road is a beautifully constructed introduction to a diverse, lively environment which helps to embrace the vibrancy of Smith’s original work.
Audiences are introduced to a variety of new characters, including Mad Mary, a wide-eyed eccentric who trails up and down the high street shouting at passers-by, and Rosie, who has just found out she is pregnant and then falls into a coma after she is injected with syringe full of anaesthetic.
Mad Mary is on hand to guide Rosie through a ‘coma-dream’ to reveal the origins of her family (including her grandfather Archie) and we are introduced to the rest of the Kilburn community throughout.
It is not without flaws, however.
Constructing a two-hour play from an almost 500-page novel must have been a challenge and it shows.
The book leaps back and forth in time between 1945 and 1999 and the stage adaption is no different. The audience is subjected to several rewind and fast forward scenes (projected in a vaguely humorous way where the cast slowly turn and twist themselves like an old VCR tape to portray movement in time), and transitions are quick and fast-paced.
There is barely a moment for the audience to digest one scene before we are moving onto the next drama occurring within the north London setting, which sometimes proved problematic.
Similarly, serious points such as religion, family and traditions seem to be touched upon and then are briskly brushed over.
White Teeth is fun and animated, but to the point where it is almost caricature-like. An excellent first effort in adapting the book to the stage but allowing more room to breathe could have benefitted the occasionally complicated narrative.
We give White Teeth 3.5 out of 5 stars.
White Teeth runs until 22 December 2018