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Teeth 'N' Smiles

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Faber & Faber, London, 1976
(price: 1.50)

dedication: for Joe

The blurb on the back:

June 9th 1969. A warm night in Cambridge. A rock band plays the May Ball gig for 120. A great deal of champagne, a good deal of hashish, some acid and a very little preludin. And the band still have three sets to play.

Lancing College in Sussex is one of the more respected English public schools, rated not simply for staffing the civil service but also for artistic achievement. Its impressive roster of old boys† included in the early-1960s, for example, a triumvirate of writers who made it big in the theatre: Tim Rice, Christopher Hampton and David Hare. Rice, of course, went for the mainstream, aiming for genuine popular success with the likes of Jesus Christ Superstar, but Hampton and Hare went down the more conventional subsidized route, getting their debut works (When Did You Last See My Mother and the brilliantly titled Slag respectively) put on at the Royal Court.

Hare subsequently became one of our more politically-committed playwrights (left-wing, obviously - right-wing playwrights don't get government subsidies), and almost had a popular hit with Plenty, which was filmed in 1985 with a fantastic cast that included Burt Kwouk, Sam Neill, Meryl Streep, Sting and Tracey Ullman. Except that it wasn't really very popular at all (maybe because that cast list kinda tails off toward the end). Nonetheless he kept on writing, and apparently still goes down well with the kind of people who were founder-members of the SDP but occasionally like a bit of leftist ranting with their Chardonnay.

Teeth 'n' Smiles was a fairly early piece, first performed (at the Royal Court, natch) in 1975. I haven't seen it on stage, so I'm shouldn't really pass judgement since I'm probably being unfair, but on the page it certainly comes across as a load of old nonsense. It's not horribly unconvincing, at least, just a bit pointless.

The best bit is that there's a character named Randolph, who used to be around in the '50s and who was played in the original production by Heinz, of 'Just Like Eddie' and Tornadoes fame. I'm very fond of Heinz as a pop icon so this is the kind of thing that goes down very well with me, but the character's credibility is undermined - and Hare's lack of pop expertise revealed - by the fact that Randolph's stage-name in the good old days was Tony Torrent.

You see that's the kind of alliterative name that British rock & roll stars didn't have in the 1950s. Vince Eager, Billy Fury, Marty Wilde, Rory Storme, Georgie Fame, Johnny Gentle, Cliff Richard, Duffy Power, Tommy Steele - stop me when we get to an alliterative name, won't you? Alliteration in stage names was just about appropriate for when Hare wrote the play (Gary Glitter, Larry Lurex), but not for the '50s. It may be a minor point, but it's the kind of inattention to detail that ruins a piece about rock music - rock & roll is detail, that's all there is, and if you get it wrong, it screws everything up.

I do have to add, though, that one of the characters delivers perhaps the single most accurate account of rock history available in any of the books to be found on this site:

It never got better than 1956. Tat. Utter tat. But inspired. The obvious repeated many times. Simple things said well. Then along came those boys who could really play. They spoilt it of course. (p.52)

Absolutely right.

Additional notes: Hare explains that the play originally 'ran just under three hours. It was then cut during previews to what the English think is a more palatable length.' The songs (not very good ones) were written by Nick & Tony Bicat‡, and the original cast also included Karl Howman, Cherie Lunghi, Hugh Fraser, Anthony Sher, Helen Mirren and Jack Shepherd.

Jack Shepherd
Jack Shepherd
as Arthur

Mind you, this is the same school that was later to give us the big-nosed and talentless Jamie Theakston, so I guess it's a case of - as fishermen used to say - what you lose in hake, you gain in herring. (Or vice versa, I suppose...)

I could have the wrong guy, but I think this is the same Nick Bicat who collaborated with the perfect PJ Harvey on the music for the movie Stella Does Tricks.


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