Once again, the minnow that is the tiny Finborough Theatre is punching above its weight. With Nick Gill’s Mirror Teeth, it is, one suspects, trading blows with the Royal Court, little more than a mile up the road. For Gill plonks onstage a middle class family so brazenly generic that they have the double function of satirising those that have become such a mainstay at the Sloane Square venue.
In a tastefully-furnished house ‘in one of the larger cities in Our Country’, live the Jones family: James, Jane, John and Jenny. Dad returns from work and settles down with The Daily Paper. Mum dishes out more tea than a char wallah. Son, just back from the University, extols the virtues of a gap year to his Sister. Everyone smiles cheerily, terribly pleased with their way of life.
Gill’s family portrait is more barbed than the usual Royal Court fare, largely because its sneer is overt. Dad trades arms and Mum is terrified of ‘the Ethnics’, presuming all but one – a nice chap who works in the bank, who ‘has been naturalised…taken on our culture’, – carry as much threat as Somali pirates. Son and Daughter, meanwhile, bristle with an open sexual tension: she peers through a peephole when he’s in the shower; he dates her doppelganger and becomes regularly fixated by her assets. Etiquette comes before ethics, money before morality and appearance trumps all.
With all this so surface, Mirror Teeth has a tendency to feel over-familiar and a touch trite. There are traces of double standards, wherein by lampooning theatre’s fixation with the middle classes, Gill is able to repeat the same snarky criticisms.
More interesting, therefore, is the suggestion that Britain’s Empire complex is fit and well, as the Joneses emigrate to AN other Middle Eastern country in search of further profit. Gill skilfully elucidates the unchanging nature of this established order by presenting the middle class family unit as a self-replicating system, in which sons are moulded into their father’s image and outsiders, such as Jenny’s black boyfriend, are either co-opted or kept in check.
Kate Wasserberg correctly matches the over-direct dialogue with a heightened playing style reminiscent of Steve Martin’s WASP or Family Guy. David Verrey’s Dad is a bulbous toad of a man with overgrown adenoids causing a deep, nasal caw. Catherine Skinner is show-stoppingly fantastic as the mother, clinging paralysed to the wall at the sight of a non-white face. She flits half-ignored by the family, seemingly always on the cusp of a breakdown, but carefully maintaining perfect dimples and a voice like quilted loo roll.
Yet it lacks a certain mania that would allow the humour the element of surprise. Tonally flat, its initial bite grows gummy and, even as events darken and escalate to the very brink of the Jones’ control, Mirror Teeth sidles into drab absurdity.