theatre review: babyteeth
Directed by Chris Drummond, Babyteeth, explores the effects of cancer on the families it touches. The production, currently showing at the State Theatre Company of South Australia, Adelaide, also depicts an unusual love story, undoubtedly spurred on by the disease. Fourteen year old Milla (Danielle Catanzariti) meets twenty-five year old Moses (Matt Crook) at a train station, and they commence a friendship despite his obvious flaws – his clothes smell, and he asks her for money. The relationship soon becomes more than just friendship, despite the concern of Milla’s parents. Milla has cancer, and their family life is complicated.
Drug use features strongly in Babyteeth, from Milla’s numerous daily medications to Moses’ former drug dealing to the pills prescribed to Milla’s mother Anna (Claire Jones) by her psychiatrist father Henry (Chris Pitman). Drugs are not condemned or encouraged, but presented as merely a fact of life for this ailing family. Milla’s relapse takes a toll on everyone, and the play explores the change in relationships as they are slowly engulfed in fear and grief.
Pitman as the father holds his family, and the production, together. He stoically doles out an assortment of pills to wife Anna, whose mental health is shattered by Milla’s illness, and attempts to calm her behaviour so that it won’t affect Milla. Pitman’s Henry is measured and careful, offsetting Jones’ erratically shrill Anna.
Catanzariti’s physicality matches Milla’s frailty, yet she manages to add a certain strength into her portrayal that might not make sense without Matt Crook’s charming Moses, who is as dubiously dependable as a 25-year-old drug addict boyfriend can be. As Latvian violin teacher Gidon, Paul Blackwell provides light and warmth, and Alyssa Mason’s scenes as pregnant next door neighbour Toby are welcome (if predictable) relief from the main family’s story.
Wendy Todd has created a versatile set of wooden louvres, with sections moving as needed to produce different spaces. Just by looking at this set it is possible to imagine what the ever wonderful Geoff Cobham can do with his lighting, with shadows of the wooden slats used to great effect. The set gives a more traditional layout to the Space Theatre without taking away its intimacy.
Why then, given these factors, does the play not manage to reach the highs that it should? Writer Rita Kalnejais has combined drug addicts and abusers, cancer, death, sex, loss, love and more into one play, and it goes for longer than it should. There is a problem with fitting too much in. For all Babyteeth manages to pack into one script, it lacks real heart. Perhaps Kalnejais’ background as an actor has hindered her on this occasion, leading to a script with characters that are interesting but a story which is not.
Babyteeth should be moving and absorbing, yet it falls short of making any real emotional impact. The humour sprinkled throughout is delivered well, and there are many funny moments – it’s just the heavier parts which don’t hit the mark. There is a lot of heart, and even a little joy, to be found; there just isn’t any soul.
‘Babyteeth’, presented by State Theatre Company of South Australia, is being performed at the Space Theatre from 16 August to 7 September. Tickets $25-$55 at Bass. Running time 2 hours and 20 minutes with an interval.