Science fiction and musical theatre, musical theatre and science fiction. If that’s already turned you off The Quentin Dentin Show, so be it. A show either to be liked or loathed, appreciated or dismissed, hilarious or distinctly unfunny, shallow and pedantic or deep and thought-provoking.
When Quentin Dentin (a fresh-faced Luke Lane) calls for an interval by threatening other characters with words to the effect of, “We’ll see how you enjoy the second half,” it’s a most unsubtle hint that Act Two is going to be substantially darker than the relatively celebratory Act One.
The mischievousness in the first half, which to some extent carries on after the interval, means that quite how dark events become, particularly in the last half hour or so of the show, is surprising, leaving this reviewer with a bittersweet taste in the proverbial mouth. In some ways, there’s nothing in this production that hasn’t been seen in some form before in science fiction – robots, artificial intelligence and surreal surroundings, that sort of thing. The beauty in this musical lies in how those elements are used to create a remarkably plausible world in which computers and technology have so much inescapable sway over people’s lives. For Keith (Max Panks) and Nat (Shauna Riley), this even means technological intervention to sort out their apparent relationship problems.
There are 17 musical numbers, though none of them are particularly memorable. A touch of The Book of Mormon musical comes with The Voice (Freddie Fullerton) disseminating instructions and destinations of next assignments to loyal followers of ‘The Programme’, including Dentin. But signing up to The Programme involves signing off a contract – the terms of which are a futuristic variation of the Faustian bargain (that is, making a pact with the Devil). I only realised this myself late on in proceedings, and it took a scene, arguably ironically, in which people’s souls were being extracted by a ‘brain machine’, for me to see the light.
The upbeat nature of many of the songs emphasised the surface level glee and happiness as well as magnifying the underlying serious issues the musical raises. The choreography (Caldonia Walton) is performed with gusto, adding much sparkle to an upbeat score (Henry Carpenter). A warm welcome – and for theatre regulars, a reassuring one – is supplied in a series of announcements given in a soothing voice as the audience file in, above and beyond the standard ‘no mobile phones please’. A request to not kick the seat in front should, frankly, be more widespread. I couldn’t count the number of times when I have felt unsure I whether I was in a theatre or on a train.
Although veering repeatedly towards the absurd, there can be something genuinely therapeutic about, for instance, being in space or swimming in the sea, scenarios in which Dentin puts Keith and Nat through in a determined attempt to help them achieve some sort of utopian existence (this is all as dramaturgically ridiculous as it sounds). But, as Dentin points out, there’s no benefit to be gained unless Keith and Nat really want it. It’s a bit like doing physiotherapy but with no desire to increase or maintain mobility.
Panks’ Keith and Riley’s Nat are bemused by proceedings, as is the audience, who can only empathise with them as the eccentricities keep ratcheting up. Flanked by Friend 1 (Freya Tilly) and Friend 2 (Lottie-Daisy Francis), Dentin is like one of those presenters on a shopping channel, ever beaming, and doing his best to deal with unforeseen circumstances as they arise. In all the fun and frolicking, there are some grave and somewhat alarming questions about how far anyone should be prepared to go just to realise a desire to be happy and content. It’s all done in such an unconventional way. I’m not sure about this musical achieving cult status, but I would recommend it as a case study into how to get audiences engaged in some (technically) possible future scenarios involving robots, in the form of an escapist musical comedy. A bizarre but boisterous production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Following a highly successful run at Above The Arts, the cult hit rock musical, The Quentin Dentin Show is back. This is The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the new Millennium.
Join the charismatic Quentin Dentin on his mission to make humanity happy. In order to demonstrate his musical therapies on his domestically unsatisfied test subjects Nat and Keith, Quentin Dentin finds his way into their world through the household radio – now a teleport for his sensational signing. Are you ready for him? If not, prepare for an appointment with the Brain Machine…
The Quentin Dentin Show has developed a cult following on its journey from London to the Edinburgh Fringe and back, on a trajectory from humble beginnings to a fully blown Off West End rock musical.
With a brilliant original soundtrack, live rock band and dazzling choreography, The Quentin Dentin Show is guaranteed to make you happy or kill you trying.
The Quentin Dentin Show
Performance Dates Monday 19th June – Saturday 29th July
Running time 1hr 45mins, including a 15 minute interval
Producer Hannah Elsy Productions
Music and Lyrics Henry Carpenter
Book Henry Carpenter & Tom Crowley
Director Adam Lenson
Choreographer & Associate Director Caldonia Walton
Lighting Design & Production Management Lars Davidson
Sound Designer & Engineer Iain Harvey
Stage Manager Anastasia Booth
Associate Producer Soha Khan for Curious Flamingo Productions
The Quentin Dentin Show is supported by The Rich Mix Cultural Foundation.
Keys & Musical Director Henry Carpenter
Guitar Mickey Howard
Drums Archie Wolfman
Location Tristan Bates Theatre, 1a Tower Street, London WC2H 9NP