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 The Theatreguide.London Review

His Teeth
Only Connect Theatre  Autumn 2011 and touring

Only Connect is a theatre company made up of prisoners and ex-offenders, helping them find their voices and identities through performance.

Their work has the high energy of dedicated amateurs along with the immediacy and authenticity of those who know what they're talking about, and these qualities can go far to carry them past any limitations of technique or polish. 

His Teeth, written by Ben Musgrave and developed with the company and director Maggie Norris, relates the tragic misadventures of an illegal immigrant, lured from Nigeria with promise of riches but destined for the sex trade. Despite rebellion and even escape, he has noplace else to go, and sinks back into addiction and hopelessness.

A notable thing about the play is that it is not a simple polemic. Although there are clear villains, everyone is seen as trapped in some way – by need, by addiction, by loss of hope or by madness. As a result the play generates more pity and regret than outrage, a reflection perhaps of the performers' thorough knowledge of this world. 

If the greatest strength of the play lies in its reality and immediacy, director Norris and designer takis (both professionals, along with the rest of the production staff and one of the actors) have chosen a production mode that seems oddly self-defeating. 

The play is done in the round, with most of the action set within a cage-like box of semi-transparent screens, on which various images are projected. 

Apart from literally separating us from the actors, the screens simply get in the way of our seeing (and, since not all the actors are skilled at projection and enunciation, hearing) them, especially when images stand between us and them. 

Slides of scenery just block our vision, a string of date-and-time checks offer little guidance, and several sequences in which the characters knowingly speak to TV cameras are weakened by an odd time delay. 

Just about the only projections that do have some resonance that outweighs their interference are bits of supposed CCTV footage following the characters through the streets. 

Of course most standard criteria of theatre criticism are irrelevant here. The success of the work lies in its existing at all, giving voice to the participants and speaking to the school and youth centre groups that are its natural audience.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   His Teeth - Only Connect 2011

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