Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile Review

The Ambassador Pub, Bradford – until 8th June 2019

Reviewed by Sally Richmond


The brilliant Freedom Studios started off the evening with a proper, warm Yorkshire welcome when presenting: Adelle Stripe’s Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile – adapted by Lisa Holdsworth and directed by Kash Arshad. There was a lot of love in the room at the Ambassador pub, Bradford, where the extraordinary story of Andrea Dunbar (the Bradford playwright who is perhaps best known for the 1987 film adaptation of her second play, Rita, Sue and Bob Too ) was spellbindingly performed last night.

Andrea grew up on the Buttershaw estate in Bradford in the late 1970s; where social problems were rife, causing limited opportunities for its local people. Her talent as a writer was recognised at school but she didn’t get any real acclaim for it until a few years later. Andrea experienced many life changing and significant events early on in her childhood and teenage years, some being tragic: such as losing her first child and being a victim of domestic violence but she wrote about them so eloquently – and with a simple truth – that even through the traumas, she made the audience laugh and eventually cry with her.

Performing the play – Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile – in the Ambassador pub, right in the heart of Bradford, was a genius idea and couldn’t have been a more fitting venue for this story to unfold. You entered Andrea’s world as soon as you walked through the door; with karaoke performances blasting out old tunes in the bar below by a large local crowd celebrating the start to the weekend with a few drinks. The set was amazingly simple as it was so authentic and resonated with anyone who grew up in the late 70s / early 80s – it was like we were there, in the Beacon pub, with Andrea where she sadly passed away.

From first stepping out on to the stage and right through until her last words, actress Emily Spowage (who played the older Andrea) gave an outstanding, realistic and flawless performance. She portrayed Andrea’s tired and frustrated character extremely well but also showed us shades of the deep rooted vulnerability that had shaped her – shaped the woman we first meet downing halves just moments from her unfortunate demise. Emily really made you believe that she was Andrea sat in that pub, mulling over her thoughts and even though there were many heart-felt sad moments, she also added humour by delivering Andrea’s dead pan and straight talking speaking so well.

The young Andrea, played by Lucy Hird, was equally exceptional as the feisty young teenager who had already sussed out that Thatcher’s Britain wasn’t going to do much for her or the other residents of the Buttershaw estate. Hird played her as a real spunky, live wire character with fire in her belly and lots to say and yet there were moments where we could see that Andrea had had no mentor to guide her, which left her alone, exposed and just a child trying to make adult decisions.

The other three cast members: Laura Lindsay, Claire Marie and Balvinder Sopal played multiple characters and slipped effortlessly into a variety of vital roles throughout telling Andrea’s story. Eileen, played by Claire Marie, alongside Hird, brought the fun-loving, thrill-seeking teenagers to life and we could see clear aspects of Rita and Sue in them and how those two lovable characters evolved. The all female cast was very strong, like the women they were acting and this play was exactly that – about women – their struggles, friendships, relationships with men, families, let downs, hopes and dreams.

I cannot recommend Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile enough and want to see it again as it was genuinely that good – so well written, adapted, staged and of course acted by a truly talented cast. I used the word authentic earlier and will repeat it because that is what this play is – authentic through and through – true to its place, time and people.