A NEW stage adaptation of Zadie Smith’s debut novel, the first in fact, begins on Kilburn High Road. Like the city itself, this London neighbourhood is defined by successive waves of immigration. Strip-lit groceries selling plantain and tamarind rub shoulders with Halal butchers and Irish pubs. On a wet November evening, the familiar late-night London scents of fried chicken and kebab mix with shisha smoke. Happily, the Kiln Theatre is spared the cost of special effects to conjure the smells and sounds of the High Road, because it is located halfway down it. This is an unusual kind of immersive theatre: in effect the production begins at the moment the audience arrives at the Tube station.
Ms Smith’s novel is deeply rooted in this area and the road itself (originally a Roman route from St Albans to Canterbury), so Indhu Rubasingham’s production has the feel of a homecoming. Published in January 2000 when Ms Smith was 23 years old, “White Teeth” epitomised a self-deprecating sort of millennial hopefulness. The London it depicted in its epic, serio-comic sprawl was post-racial, post-imperial, a “melting pot where nothing’s actually melted. It’s all just kinda stuck together at the bottom in a gooey mess”. One reviewer wrote that “it makes racism appear not only ugly and stupid but ludicrously out of date”.