26/02/2007 - 01/03/2007
Created by Brooke Williams, Sally Richards, Robyn Yee
Directed by Sally Richards
... with assistance from Martyn Wood Gareth Williams
Designer - Robyn Yee
Producer and lighting designer - Megan Peacock
Sound Designer - Gil Eva Craig
Publicity - Brianne Kerr
Operatore - Martyn Wood
Graphic Design - Matt Kleinhaus
Photography - Willem Wassenaar
The surreal world of our private verses public persona, the masks we wear… and the tooth fairy.
Porcelain Grin probes beyond the fake smiles. What lies just a scratch beneath the enamel? Luminescent social veneers are flossed to expose a decaying world of loneliness, and something as rare as hen’s teeth… the truth.
Using a transformative dentist’s chair, Porcelain Grin draws on the magic of story telling, as the characters reveal what lies beneath their porcelain grins – sometimes funny, sometimes fearful, dark or surreal.
Rising talent Brooke Williams (Toi Whakaari graduate 2006) has made a mark in Christchurch playing leads in productions such as ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘The Cherry Orchard’ before arriving in Wellington. After her acclaimed solo production Flash Trash as part of the Go Solo season, Williams is set to prove she’s a name to watch.
Director Sally Richards has a fascination with the art of solo performance. “The compulsion for a character to confess its darkest secrets to a voyeuristic audience appeals to me.” Richards has just completed her Master of Theatre Arts at Toi Whakaari and is currently doing preliminary performance research for he PhD in Theatre on solo performance.
So why do we continue to smile in the face of adversity?
Performed by Brooke Williams
Theatre , Solo ,
Quirky impressionistic performance
Review by Richard Mays 02nd May 2007
Roald Dahl’s Matilda and Revolting Rhymes are evoked in this madcap theatrical escapade. If Dahl had written a tooth-fairytale, then this is how it might have looked. Just as the author reworked traditional fables to include his own grotesque twists, Brooke Williams’ Porcelain Grin turns dental appointments into a kind of x-rated gothic nightmare, which comes complete with its own Listen With Mother storyteller.
The solo performance could easily be subtitled Fun With Toothpaste And Masticated Chocolate, or 101 Things To Do In A Dentist’s Chair When You Think No One’s Looking.
Ugly Betty-esque Lottie has dreams to become the next Face of Colgate. We know Lottie’s fat and frumpy and doesn’t have a hope, because Melissa the reigning Face and dental receptionist, tells us so. To realise her dream, Lottie makes a sweet-free pact with a mysteriously suave but creepy dentist, played in a Hercules Grytpype-Thynne voice-over, who tells her "one must suffer to be beautiful".
Never on time for her appointments, his absence lets Lottie experiment. She commits all kinds of indecencies in the fully operational chair, has conversations with talking toothbrushes, and uses toothpaste as a snack food.
Rated best solo show at this year’s Wellington Fringe, Williams’ appeal is in the range of facial expressions she commands, and her physical commitment to characters and fantasy situations. Besmeared with toothpaste and then with comfort chocolate, she is not afraid to make a right royal mess of herself.
For those who like random with an underlying social commentary, this quirky impressionistic performance will do it.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Visual surprises and delight
Review by John Smythe 26th Feb 2007
Shaping up to be a highlight of the Fringe, I sense in my bones that Porcelain Grin will shine when solo performer Brooke Williams gets the pitch of the BATS space.
Somehow her lightweight voice, her fast-talking characters, their colloquial speech and falling inflections, plus a fan humming close to where I was sitting (where I almost always sit, incidentally) conspired on opening night to make many phrases unintelligible. Fearing Fringe fatigue was causing deafness I checked with others who’d sat elsewhere and all reported hearing difficulties.
But the physical and visual components are brilliant. Had it been in an unknown language I would still have enjoyed it greatly, although some aspects may have seemed more outrageous than they are supposed to be.
Lottie with the crooked teeth, who wants to be the face of Colgate 2008, is the main character. Mellissa is her dentist’s receptionist and a part-time model who has a boyfriend called Josh, I think, and a girlfriend she chats to on the phone.
The try-hard bogan guy we get to see is called Hayden, I think. Closely related to Trent in Williams’ Toi Whakaari solo show Flash Trash (and possibly the son of Lorae Parry’s Nigel of Digger and Nudge fame), he may or may not be Melissa’s ex – not sure.
Lottie’s Mum appears in shadow play and the Dentist is a recorded treacly ‘voice-of-god’ (also distorted to the point of semi-coherence at times).
Fortunately, given what she gets up to in the dentist’s chair, I caught the fact that Lottie is 19, although she presents as childlike, especially in private, in play and in some (not all) of her fantasies. This is probably because her father left home when she was seven, leaving her emotionally trapped at that age.
Williams’ comedic characterisations – physical, vocal, mental and emotional – are superb and her ingenious playing with props, abetted by director Sally Richards, affords constant surprises and delight. Quite where objective reality ends and subjective fears and fantasies start is up to us to fathom or guess.
I assume there’s a unifying theme about all the characters turning out to be something / someone else, beneath their porcelain grins. I got that okay with Lottie and the Dentist but such dimensions in Melissa and Hayden were harder for me to discern – doubtless because of those missed words.
To comment further on the writing, in terms of narrative structure and theme, I’d have to see it again – and I might.
PORCELAIN GRIN REVISITED
On a second viewing, sitting closer – and with much more clarity in the live delivery now, and the fans turned off I think – I’ve discovered more about this play.
Melissa has been the face of Colgate three years running and most of what she says in her try-hard affected voice – amusingly done – is vacuous chick-twitter. (It turns out what I’d thought was “He’s crazed!” was “Jayz’ Chrayst!”) Rather than pursue a quest of her own, her role is to sabotage Lottie in various entertaining ways. She does dump Hayden (for someone called Jock, not Josh) and Hayden – who is a labourer working on the new roundabout – comes on to Lottie not because he’s attracted to her (he’s not) but because she’s a virgin and therefore a candidate for his growing bouquet of ‘flowers’.
The first time round I thought I’d misheard when it seemed everyone was calling Lottie fat. No way. There is not the slightest hint in the sylph-like actress’s physicalising of Lottie, so I remain a bit bemused by that.
The Svengali-like Dentist’s dark side remains elusive in that it remains unclear exactly what he wants from Lottie in the end. It may or may not be connected to the fact that she reminds him of his dead wife except he has mentioned a fondness for watching children and the rigorous exercise regime that he finally subjects Lottie to, does not seem connected to either of those desires.
I neglected to mention before that a recorded female voice acts as story-teller – the whole presentation is very “kids’ story time’ in tone – and it is her voice that issues the final commands. In sound and visual terms the ending is suitably climactic but I am confused as to its meaning.
It has all the hall-marks of a loss of innocence story yet when Lottie metamorphoses into the Tooth Fairy it would seem to suggest she has regressed. Unless it’s connected to the stash of children’s letters to the Tooth Fairy that she has discovered in the dentist’s rooms …
Thinking long and hard about it afterwards I wonder, are we supposed to be asking how he came to get those letters? Could it be that he is trying to conscript Lottie as his Tooth Fairy by way of continuing some appalling practice of perving on children asleep in their beds? And if so, why is the woman narrator giving the orders? Is she supposed to be Lottie herself …?
That story-teller’s voice does drop out a lot, by the way, with the loss of syllables, sometimes in clusters, rendering unclear what should be crystal. Assuming the show will remain in her repertoire, re-recoding that is a must.
My conclusion is that while there is no doubt about Brooke Williams’ acting skills – her sense of comic timing is impeccable – the writing needs some more crafting so that whatever that twist at the end is supposed to be, we get it as a group, in a collective “O-my-God” moment.
The promotional material suggests the plays is about what lies behind the porcelain grins we all wear to cover up who we really are. I’m not sure it fulfils on that promise and rather suspect that in the process of working out the characters and inventing all those wacky things to do with props, the ‘big picture’ has got lost.
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