First performed as a staged reading as part of the Finborough’s 2009 Vibrant Festival of new writing, Nick Gill’s Mirror Teeth may be only 90 minutes long, but it packs a lot of punches in its short time-frame. In what at first appears to be a straight send-up of the English middle class, this elegant and streamlined production manages to both reassert and undermine racial stereotypes, problamatising the way we in which consider what constitutes ourselves and others, whilst also managing to be incredibly funny at the same time.
The play has a three act structure; each new act beginning almost identically to the first, whilst gradually edging towards a more and more absurdist version of reality. Beautifully designed by Philip Lindley, each of the acts take place in an (almost identical) wealthy cosmopolitan family home. Gill’s play begins as a parody. The Jones family live in ‘one of the larger cities in Our Country’; they’re prejudiced and narrow-minded, the parents stereotyping all ‘blacks’ as knife-carrying, sexually violent criminals. Their repetitive existence is thrown into confusion when their ‘sexually-active eighteen-year-old’ daughter Jenny brings home an ‘ethnic’ boyfriend Kwesi, who the mother first mistakes for a burglar and then tries to placate by giving him a cup of tea.
What is so clever about this play is the way that the Jones family are also overtly stereotypical, their intolerant attitudes stretched to the limit as the play progresses. In the second act the whole family are transplanted to the Middle East, where the plot becomes increasingly absurdist: identities become fractured; characters begin to forget things which happened to them off-stage; actors double up in different roles and the audience’s attention is drawn to this doubling. Kwesi’s idealism is subverted by the family, and soon he’s displaying the same bigotry as the Jones. All the characters become complicit in the horrors which unfold, locked into a Huis Clos-like hell of the family living room.
The production benefits from a very strong cast. Catherine Skinner is delightful as the deluded house-wife, and Louise Collins is particularly impressive in her double role as both the daughter Jane and the girlfriend of Jane’s brother John. Throughout the production she is called upon to be, variously, in a state of catatonic shock, sexual arousal, incestuous lust and elegant maturity.
The pace changes in the final act, there’s a sudden slowing as a long monologue is performed, encompassing religious and mythological themes from a dazzling host of different cultures and histories. This impressive speech may work to depict an epic grandeur of sight in opposition to the anesthetised naval-gazing of the Jones, but it seems somehow out of kilter with the rhythm of the rest of the piece. Even so this is an intelligent production of an exciting play, which flourishes under the sure hand of director Kate Wasserberg.