It’s astonishing what you can pick up at the theatre. For instance: Phil, who sleeps on his face (insert your own gag here), had no idea it was bad for him.
Along with sucking pacifiers (insert second own gag here) it is apparently one of the “enemies of a beautiful mouth”. It’s far too late for the Whingers which could explain why they cover their faces for photo opportunities.
But if any of you younger people turn up at Dr Stark’s (Joseph Millson) 1930s New York dental practice you should heed these and other warnings on the marvellous posters which adorn the walls of the waiting room.
Mind you, it’s unlikely that you will because it’s a play. And also because Dr Stark has very few patients: just one in the nigh-on-three-hours the Whingers spent there.
Yet Stark is always staying late “working”. What could he be doing? If you were his wife you might think he was having an affair.
Stark’s a nice man but a bit of a ditherer and having something of a mid-life crisis at 40 (if 40 is mid-life then Andrew and Phil are in, respectively, the autumn and winters of their lives) and slightly grudgingly married to his pushy, bossy wife Belle (Keeley Hawes).
His father-in-law, Mr Prince (Nicholas Woodeson), encourages him to take the metaphorical and titular Rocket to the Moon and aim for something worthwhile in his life. It is advice that Stark resists by nature but then he falls for his young dental assistant Cleo Singer (Jessica Raine)…
It is no big surprise everyone loves Cleo: Raine is hilarious and delightful and appears to have teetered and wiggled into Clifford Odets’ 1938 play from a Kaufman and Hart comedy, yet she skilfully balances the dumb blonde routine with a vulnerability that enables her to pull it off in a very Judy Holliday kind of way. It’s a brave choice and we think it will stick in certain gullets but frankly without it the evening would have been much duller. Anyway, also popping in from another genre is Woodeson’s Mr Prince who might have escaped from a Tennessee Williams play. And just to complicate things, Mr Price would also like to carry on with Cleo.
Millson is terrific as the seemingly ineffectual Stark. He has perfected the art of a nervous smile and curled top lip. The only problem is one of plausibility: it simply doesn’t make sense that he doesn’t have any patients: why aren’t people queueing up to be drilled and filled by such an easy-on-the-eye practitioner? All fears of lying in a dentist’s chair exposing ones cavities would quickly be assuaged by the charming Mister Millson.
If novocaine seemed to have been injected into the opening moments it soon wears off and Angus Jackson’s production builds gently to become very engaging. The cast are all rather good. Hawes makes an impressive stage debut and sports her striking millinery with aplomb. Millson and Raine are outstanding. The set by Anthony Ward, effectively lit by Mark Henderson, is agreeably convincing with rain in the last scene, though the period detail of the surgery is only tantalisingly visible through blinds. Frustrating.
All very polished.
The National Theatre has finally introduced a pre-show announcement about switching off mobile phones. Hurrah! Let’s hope the other theatres that still don’t do this follow suit. Phil, who switches off in the theatre religiously, hadn’t on this occasion and so was relieved to be reminded. Not that anyone would have called.