Theatre Review: The Demon Dentist

Words: Ian Kingsbury
Friday 21 April 2023
reading time: min, words

David Walliams does Dahl, sort of...


Like Alan Sugar before me, I’m struggling here.

There are two reviews in my head. There’s a version that acknowledges that this is pitched at 7-11 year olds and that the young crowd seemed to lap up the macabre funnies with whoops of delight. In this version I praise the comedic chops of the uniformly excellent cast, the pitch-perfect direction and choreography, the cracking set design and rather thrilling high-end stage properties.

This version pays tribute to Sam Varley’s brilliant energy as Alfie, the star of our story, Emily Harrigan’s deliciously malevolent turn as the show’s titular baddie, Zain Abraham’s quite brilliant character of Raj the shop owner, and Ben Eagle’s chortle-some contributions, best of all his dopey, old school northern copper.


But there’s also this other version. And whilst it takes nothing away from the cast, the creative and production teams, and keeps in place all the well-earned praise for the Birmingham Stage Company, it does point out that you found it near impossible to see past the cloyingly mawkish moments of bolted-on sentimentality, the paint-by-numbers (and often jarring) plot, and the barely simmering resentment at the less-than-stellar source material from a cynical, Pound Shop Roald Dahl.

The programme gushes that David Walliams has ‘revolutionised reading for young children’. It’s probably Canute level nonsense to try and refute that, judging by his 50+ million sales. But the best bits about this show I found to be the interplay between the characters – notably a lovely minute or so of physical comedy sans script where Alfie, his Dad and Raj investigate the prospect of other-worldly intruder in the bedroom. And the scene where coffee-intolerant social worker Winnie – played by Misha Malcom – scoffs a packet of Revels with only the coffee ones left and succumbs to a very noisy bout of diarrhoea.

This second review dribbles on to express qualms about the targets of Walliams’ humour – is the Revels joke at the expense of those with IBS? It mumbles something about the originality of Walliams’ characters and relationships – is Miss Root an ersatz facsimile of The Grand High Witch? Is the relationship between Alfie and his COPD-afflicted dad just a lazy, overly sentimental rip off the genuinely moving relationship at the heart of Danny, the Champion of the World?

And then the first review rolls it’s eyes and balls “for Gangsta Granny’s sake, you’re 42 and jaded. It’s not FOR you. It’s for pre-teens, you pretentious mood hoover. And they demonstrably all REALLY enjoyed it. So shut up.” And it would be right.

The Demon Dentist plays at Nottingham's Theatre Royal from 20 April to 23 April 2023.

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