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March 17, 2008 | by  | in Theatre |
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The Dentist’s Chair

While suitably funny, meaningful and captivating, Indian Ink’s latest show The Dentist’s Chair fails to achieve the same level of innovation their previous plays have exhibited. Regardless, the product itself is still perfectly satisfying. Rich in plot, props and other such theatricalities, The Dentist’s Chair is a wholesome and affluent play by some of New Zealand’s top theatre practitioners, suffering only from a distinct sense of deja vu.

The play stars the ever-popular Jacob Rajan (co-founder of the Indian Ink Theatre Company) as Albert Southwick, a dentist who, by an unlikely coincidence, shares the same name as the man who invented the electric chair – who just happens to have been a dentist as well. Albert has a few relationship issues with his frosty wife, played by Peta Rutter, which are magnified by the arrival of Tilly, played by Mia Blake (The Tattooist), a young outcast with terrible teeth who cleans for the dental practice. All the while, Albert is haunted by the ghost of the first man executed in the electric chair, William Kemmler, played by evocatively by Gareth Williams. The cast are also supported by two very able musicians, David Ward and Isaac Smith.

The staging itself certainly looks very pretty. The set is dynamic and surprisingly versatile, comprised of a several moveable pieces of scenery as well as some translucent white partitions on rails, allowing for some cool imagery in the later stages of the show. Lighting is used to great effect in this production, the large backdrop at the back of the stage being used to project some really sensuous and breathtaking colours.

Some oversized and very comic props are used in the dentistry scenes, in which the patients are played by actors with large boxes on their heads. The power drills and meat hooks used play on the comedy aspect we expect from the show, while at the same time providing a link to the heightened theatricality of the play.

The reasoning behind the use of masks, however, is one which I struggled with. They seem to be a continuation and extension of some of the motifs established early on by the company. Plays such as Krishnan’s Dairy and The Pickle King are renowned for their use of mask work. In this fourth incarnation, however, their presence doesn’t seem to add anything. There is nothing special or unique about the characters in mask. In other words, they might as well not be wearing them.

Aside from this criticism, the play is well constructed and very entertaining. The performers are all of an immensely high standard. Gareth Williams, a graduate of Toi Whakaari, demonstrates not only his acting talent but shows off a deeply haunting singing voice. Mia Blake and, of course, Jacob Rajan also shine.

A great piece of theatre, but unfortunately, one I feel I have seen before.

The Dentist’s Chair
Written by Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis
Directed by Justin Lewis
At Soundings Theatre (Te Papa)
Mar 6 – 16

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