Review White Teeth by Zadie Smith, Kiln Theatre, London

It is a big book to adapt but Director Indhu #Rubasingham has done it bringing the very first stage adaptation of the Zadie Smith breakout novel “White Teeth” to the London stage, the book brings together the vibrant multicultural characters in the communities that exist in Kilburn, North West London. Rubasingham manages to pull the characters right out of the book and bring them to life. Smith’s multi-layered narrative tells the story of the Iqbals, from Bangladesh and the Joneses a mixed race couple who meet at a party to mark the end of the World War. Writer Stephen Starkey uses central character Irie’s story  (Ayesha Antoine) (who if you read the book at the end she was pregnant) by opening the adaptation with her now 25-year-old daughter Rosie (Amanda Wilkin) who falls into a coma when Mad Mary, (played righteously by Michele Austin) Queen of the High Road, injects her with a needle at the dentist where she works and the whole play is hallucination as she takes us through the narrative, with her mother Irie.

Michele Austin. White Teeth at Kiln Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet _50A1562
Michele Austin. White Teeth at Kiln Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet

Still with us?  So this is how it plays out Irie Rosie’s mother is the daughter of Archie (Richard Lumsden) and his hot young wife Clara (Nenda Neurer) who is from Jamaica. Samad (Tony Jayawardena),  a curry house waiter is married to Alsana (Ayesha Dharker), they have identical twin boys, Magid (Sid Sagar) and Millat. Samad wants to know how he can ever be good Muslim in the West so he sends 9-year old Magid to Bengal to become a real practising Muslim. But Majid just becomes even more Westernised, and becomes a genetic scientist, while Millat (Assad Zaman) who remains in London ironically,  joins KEVIN (Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation), a fundamentalist group, after spending his teenage years engrossed in Hip-hop and drugs, much to the dismay of the Iqbals.

Richard Lumsden, Nenda Nuerer. White Teeth at Kiln Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet _50A2202
Richard Lumsden, Nenda Nuerer. White Teeth at Kiln Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet

Sharkey’s story covers nearly 50 years going back to 1945 when Archie and Samad first meet during the war, then it muddles in and out of a colourful 80’s Britain as it embarks on the tale of how Irie met Rosie’s father and who he might be. There are some great moments provided by Mad Mary and the Iqbal twins, performing their Rap musical numbers.  Samad and Alsana make a good comedic duo as the parents of teenagers. Despite the bright characters and joviality, Tom Piper’s set is a grey backdrop, a grey Kilburn high street, which is impressive in appearance but rather sober. Stepping out onto Kilburn high street after the show one can see where Zadie Smith got her inspiration for “White Teeth”.  A thoroughly enjoyable production with a great cast.   TICKET PRICES £32.50-£10 DATES 07 Nov – 22 Dec 2018 Book tickets here

Main image credit: A Antoine, M Austin, P Bird, A Dharker, N Frederick, T Jayawardena, R Lumsden, K Queensborough, A Wilkin, A Zaman Photos by Mark Douet

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