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His Teeth

Ben Musgrave
Only Connect
Only Connect Theatre
(2011)

His Teeth publicity image

Things that actually happen can be the hardest to portray well on stage. His Teeth uses real life testimonies about crime and immigration to tell the story of Eric, an illegal immigrant from Nigeria who comes to London and ends up mixed up with human trafficking while falling in love with a pimp's girlfriend. There's some very heavy subject matter here and the plays looks into issues that are underreported and misunderstood.

The problem is that His Teeth seems unsure what to do with this material, veering in its approach from gritty documentary to TV action drama. Politically this is troubling - these are weighty issues that shouldn't be treated as stereotypical plot points - but also it means a chaotic if energised performance.

Take Derek (Junir 'Mila' Miller) and Sarah (Eleanor Wyd), aside from Eric the play's main characters. Both give strong performances: Sarah as a street girl gone prostitute has a realistic and gritty, abused by life acting style while Derek is an aggressive villain with a dominating presence and a cartoonish laugh.

Both bring a lot of energy to the stage, but they seem to be coming from two different plays and this kind of confusion continues throughout. Eric moves from sympathetic lost migrant to human trafficker to crack smoker in some really bumpy character progression.

Even the stage itself, a giant cloth cube with the actors playing within and without this space and the audience seated on each of the four sides, has an erratic presence. There's some imaginative use of images projected onto the cloth walls, such as CCTV footage, but often it just serves as slightly distracting scenery, and never feels quite integrated into the performance.

His Teeth is rough, imperfect and lacks focus, but at the same time there's a raw energy here and some visceral acting.

Reviewer: Tobias Chapple