Last Friday marked the third time I’ve seen The Quentin Dentin Show. It’s undergone a number of changes over the years and it’s living proof that the best shows don’t spontaneously appear, but are refined over time until they are the best they can be.
The brainchild of Henry Carpenter who wrote the music, lyrics and co-wrote the book, The Quentin Dentin Show is hard to pigeonhole – and in the case of this show, that’s a very big plus. Within its pseudo-Sci-Fi premise lies a tale about coupledom, personal fulfilment and happiness. The play begins when three artificial lifeforms (who like the Quakers go by the label of ‘Friends’) and are summoned before The Program. Their mission, like others they’ve had, is to sign up a disatisfied, unhappy couple to everything The Program has to offer them. While two of the party (Lottie-Daisy Francis, Freya Tilly) take part as the standard status of a ‘Friend’, the third (Luke Lane) leads the mission and is given the ‘rank’ of ‘Quentin Dentin’ – a charismatic frontman who liaises directly with the potential ‘clients’.
The couple on their radar is as different from each other as can be. Nat (Shauna Riley) works full time in a pharmacy. She actually hates her job for various reasons, but she’s level-headed enough to stay there until she’s got another job to go to. Her boyfriend Keith (Max Panks) has dispensed with having a conventional day job so that he can concentrate on writing his novel – not that he’s made much progress over the past couple of years… Neither sticking to self-imposed deadlines or having to support himself financially, Keith’s the human equivalent of Schrödinger’s cat – living in a timeless, serene betwixt state that’s in danger of ending, should he ‘rock the boat’. ‘Through the radio’ Quentin first makes himself known to Keith and then Nat, offering both their respective wishes. But there is a Faustian whiff about this good fortune that’s come their way – a price that’s perhaps too high to pay…
On this third outing, Adam Lenson’s direction and Caldonia Walton’s choreography have taken the show up a notch, motre akin to the standard of West End shows. Since Lane has taken over the role of Quentin, he has truly made it his own. As befitting a Sci-Fi-esque, otherworldly character, Lane’s Quentin is a cross between David Bowie and John Barrowman. Proving the adage that there “There are no small parts, only small actors”, Tilly and Francis are always interesting to watch and are in many ways the audience’s link to the action on stage. As for the unhappy couple, Riley’s naturally draws our sympathy with her lot in life, while Panks’ Keith manages to be amusing without the audience being on his side.
On closer analysis, Quentin Dentin shares similarities with Dennis Potter’s Brimstone & Treacle, what with its central character being a stranger who pretends to know an unhappy couple, but in reality has his own agenda. Similarities aside, what sets Quentin Dentin apart from other home-grown musicals is the time and patience that has gone into nurturing its development, evolving into a show of substance as well as entertainement. The central premise of do we truly choose and accept the lives we have is a universal question and the ‘conflict’ between Nat and Keith exemplifies this frustration when the perspective of one’s partner is overlooked. On an adjacent note, the ‘harsh truth’ segments when the ‘Friends’ show the couple what they’re really like with each other is hilarious – if only because it shows the uncomfortable truth about nobody’s ever completely in the right.
In recent weeks amongst the theatrical press, there has been a debate about the ‘absence’ of successful British musicals. The West End is one thing, but anyone who keeps abreast of the development of musicals knows it isn’t true and that they don’t spontaneously happen fully-formed. The vision and dedication of producers such as Hannah Elsy are the reason shows such as The Quentin Dentin Show has been growing from strength to strength – the positive word of mouth attesting to the show’s calibre.
© Michael Davis 2017
The Quentin Dentin Show runs at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 29th July 2017.