Neurotic, dystopic, and robotic! The Quentin Dentin Show is high-voltage rock-out-with-your-dongle-out mayhem. A short-circuit of cult potential.
Keith and Nat are stuck in a rut with both their relationship and their lives. Both have unfulfilled dreams and are frustrated that everyone around them seems to be doing better. But then, when android Quentin Dentin is summoned into their living room through the radio, he offers them a panacea that will make their lives better. Or will it?
I don’t like reviews that come up with pull quotes that basically combine two existing things for which to compare and describe what’s being reviewed. It’s a droll hyperbole that assumes everyone has seen the two things being used in the example, and is also so frustratingly vague that it ends up saying bugger all. For instance, “It’s Schindler’s List meets Mermaids!” But for something like The Quentin Dentin Show, which cannily and knowingly collides myriad bits of pop culture to create something so balls-out hyperactive and insane as it is, this is almost unavoidable. The Quentin Dentin Show feels like Richard O’Brien and Philip K. Dick conceived a love-child whilst watching It’s A Wonderful Life, called it Winston Smith, sent him to boarding school in Stepford, Connecticut where he met Carlo Collidi, formed a rock band, and then wrote The Quentin Dentin Show. In other words, The Quentin Dentin Show is The Rocky Horror Show meets Blade Runner meets It’s A Wonderful Life meets 1984 meets The Stepford Wives meets Pinocchio. And even then, that’s far from a concise and informative tirade!
Having said all of that, you might think that The Quentin Dentin Show is incredibly derivative, but it really isn’t. Whilst it’s influences and references are unashamedly apparent, what Henry Carpenter has done with this supreme mash-up is create a modern cautionary tale and contemporary conundrum about life, aspiration, and conformity. The reference points are knowing nods to everything that has gone before and are used to feed into something a bit more present. The Quentin Dentin Show is completely mad but with a very definite and dark satirical zeitgeist about the frustrations of modern adulthood and societal pressures, complete with sardonic swipes left, right, and centre that are sharper than when Knifey McKnifeface won “Knifiest Knife in Kinfington”.
Carpenter really plays with oddball androids and a constant and outwardly ironic breaking of the fourth wall to create something that’s a lot of fun and completely doolally. The gameshow contrivance and the strange and intense automatomic characters create a bizarre engagement, culminating in an overclocked digital burlesque that’s surreal and incredibly sinister. It’s difficult to say much more than that before starting to blather myself into a convoluted quagmire of adjectives and hackneyed analogies, because The Quentin Dentin Show really is something that just needs to be seen to fully appreciate its bat-shit genius.
However, it’s not perfect. Now in its seventh iteration after around two years of previous development, The Quentin Dentin Show is still fairly rough around the edges. There are moments that can’t quite seem to recapture the concentrated inspiration of others, causing the pace to dip , and transitions where the narrative progression feels hastily clamped together. It’s one of the few shows that I actually think could benefit from being longer, working in a more gradual development of plot, pace, and themes making it feel a little less rushed and rocky. But in saying that, its slight scrapiness is simultaneously one of its major charms. It constantly feels live-wire and unfamiliar, meaning you’re always a little thrown off balance, thus making The Quentin Dentin Show feel vibrantly exciting and unpredictable. Whilst a little more development could certainly benefit the show, the last thing you’d want is The Quentin Dentin Show to become so formulaic and familiar that it ends up feeling like a quirky version of everything else on the musical scene, because then it will lose so much of what makes if marvelously manic.
Music & Lyrics
Like any good music, the music and lyrics need to be as good as the book. With Carpenter also at the helm of these, too, it means that musically The Quentin Dentin show is just as rampant and witty. However, if your metric of measuring a musical’s success on the memorability of its music, The Quentin Dentin Show doesn’t meet the grade, and is possibly the one thing that makes it stop short of being super superb.
However, it’s not catchiness that Carpenter is necessarily going for. All the musical numbers are raucous, jaunty, and full of energy, injecting an aural excitement to the show as full a tilt as its shrewd and scathing book. Musically, the score is almost as unpredictable and off-kilter as the narrative. Structure and melody shift in strange ways, giving it a slightly awkward feel, but never so much that its unpalatable. Instead, it embodies the oddballness of the rest of The Quentin Dentin Show quite nicely whilst pumping rockstar intensity to the show. On top of that, lyrically, the intelligent lacerations of the book are also as edifying here, providing as comic and clean a cutting cut as the dialogue.
Direction & Production
The production of The Quentin Dentin Show does look a bit bare bones, but is what’s best about fringe shows: it’s not what you don’t have, it’s what you do with what you do have that makes all the difference. Apart from a plethora of props, the stage is essentially a scrappy sofa and a band. Caldonia Walton’s direction and choreography brings The Quentin Dentin Show to deranged life in a most impressive way. Like the musical itself, energy is everything, and Walton tries their best to ensure that it’s never left to deflate. Walton also unashamedly plays with constant breaking of the fourth-wall (much like the text), plunging the audience right into the thick of Quentin’s machinations and manipulations, meaning you simply cannot escape: not that you’d ever want to.
Helping everything along is some cracking choreography. The movement is meticulous and intricate despite the small stage, with Walton making use of the whole android theme to add a mechanic and meticulous malfunction feel to The Quentin Dentin Show. Yet there’s plenty of room for high-octane showstopping kicks too, making The Quentin Dentin Show physically as unfettered as its material.
Then, there is the fantastic band who really work with the cast. Most of all, they’re very responsive to sound levels, and even though there is just Quentin’s gold-encrusted microphone to augment the cast, it never feels like any part of the company is battling against the musicians: its a fabulous achievement of both performance and technical balancing.
The entire cast are absolutely riotous and capable. Everything from Felix Denton and Lydia Costello as The Friends’ automaton tweeness and menace, to Jamie Tibke as Keith and Shauna Riley as Nat’s frustratingly self-absorbed bumblings and innocuous failings, feeds into the dark quirk and ricocheting dynamic of The Quentin Dentin Show. It’s a really bouncy and fluid company camaraderie that makes them a brilliant ensemble.
But Luke Lane’s performance as titular Quentin is just astonishing. Everything that Lane does is with an intense showmanship that is as electrifying as it is terrifying. Lane is a flashy gargoyle of momentous glamour and caprice: a charismatic and domineering emcee. Lane is one of the most insane villains on the stage, but is also constantly the epicentre of a zealous fission that pushes the rest of the cast and The Quentin Dentin Show to bonkers new heights. An explosive performance that gnashes at the edges of sanity and brilliance.
Ladies and gentledroids, you could well be witnessing the birth of a new cult musical. Whilst The Quentin Dentin Show is still in need of a couple of tweaks, even as it is it’s a terabyte of fun and fierce wit that is infectious, dangerous, and exquisitely crazed.
The Quentin Dentin Show plays at Above the Arts Theatre, London, WC2H 7JB, until 28 May 2016. Tickets are £12 (concessions available). To book, visit artstheatrewestend.co.uk.