Theatre Review: White Teeth, Kiln, Kilburn
PUBLISHED: 14:01 07 November 2018
An all singing and dancing adaptation of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth lacks fangs but is a joyful celebration of Kilburn’s muddled diversity
With its colourful song and dance routines, and central question around paternity, the Kiln’s adaptation of Zadie Smith’s sprawling novel resembles a multicultural Mamma Mia.
Instead of a Greek island, it plunges us into the exotic delights of Kilburn High Road’s cultural melting pot, a place where a Bangladeshi waiter and a white taxi driver drink in an Irish pub run by Arabs, and where Michele Austin’s slyly savant Caribbean bag lady Mad Mary is our guide.
Adapter Stephen Sharkey and director Indhu Rubasingham do a commendable job of marshalling multiple characters who switch between 1945 and the present.
But notwithstanding an affecting mother/daughter relationship, with this much plot to crack through, most can only emerge as pantomime caricatures.
When pregnant dentist Rosie falls into a coma it’s the cue for comically rewinding 25 years to the events surrounding her birth to mixed race teen mum Irie.
Wartime buddies Archie and Samad live side by side in a Willesden where different races cultures and classes rub up against each other fairly harmoniously.
There’s no drugs or stabbings in this corner of London, and even when Samad’s twin son Magid becomes radicalised by Muslim fundamentalists, it’s the act of a moody teen rather than through profound disaffection.
The strand of the book which sees West Hampstead middle class liberals the Chalfens championing a genetically modified mouse as eliminating random disease suffers most under this breezy treatment, which simply cannot support the book’s complex themes and voices
Best to sit back and enjoy the nostalgic fun of yellow Irie’s Fila hightops and street slang circa 1992, Paul Englishby’s live songs ranging from reggae to hip hop to Vaudeville; an enjoyable skit about hair relaxing, or a comic PTA discussion of whether the Harvest Festival should be banned.
It may not dive deep into the legacy of immigration, colonialism and shifting British identities, but in a world of Brexit and Trump, simply celebrating the joyful energy of Willesden’s muddled multiculturalism is political with a small p.