Following on from my chat with the director of 101 Dalmatians, Tessa Walker, and puppetry designer Jimmy Grimes, this post is, as promised, a chat with some of the cast who will be bringing Dodie Smith’s much loved classic tale to life at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre next month.
Emma Thornett and Oliver Wellington
We start with a chat with Emma Thornett and Oliver Wellington, who play Missus and Pongo in the new adaptation. If you are unfamiliar with the book, you may be wondering who Missus is, but, as Emma explained, Missus is actually the mother of the puppies, rather than Perdita. Disney merged Missus and Perdita into one character in the film, but in the book they are both mother’s who have lost their babies. Emma mused that maybe
Disney liked the alliteration of Pongo and Perdita, but it is a shame they weren’t both in the animation.
I asked if either Emma or Oliver had any prior experience of working with puppets. Oliver had no prior experience, saying ‘it’s all new to me.’ Emma, on the other hand, had worked on Warhorse previously with Jimmy Grimes and said that initially, she didn’t think she would enjoy it. Both agreed that puppeteers need to be in a devoted state, even if they are physically in pain, stuck in funny positions controlling the puppet.
I asked if they found it easier to get into the character having the puppets. Oliver explained:-
It’s kind of like when you finally get your costume, you feel more in character. I guess it may have taken longer to get into the character without the puppet.
So much of the role is based on the physicality. It is like when you’re a kid and you play with figures and dolls, you lose yourself in play.
The actors also talk about how long it took for them to get the synergy. Oliver said the actors fell in love when they saw the puppets, loved how they moved and worked. The nuances were so realistic and detailed. Emma further explained that:
With puppetry, performance is always evolving and becoming finessed, with things working in a better way. We’re still finding out things about what the puppies can do – for example the feet have changed from the original design.
Gloria Onitiri and Jo Servi
We conclude the countdown to Cruella with a chat with the lady herself, Gloria Onitiri, and Jo Servi, who plays her husband Horace. Both Gloria and Jo were feeling super excited about the show. Gloria was very passionate in her reasons for wanting to play Cruella, saying
I know I should be super nervous, but I feel like I’m bringing something else to the role that hasn’t been seen before, her humanity, her humility. I want to show a back story, what is is that makes her act the way she does. In the Dodie Smith novel her unusual hair is natural, showing she’s always been different and has never fitted in. She saw her mother pour all her love into dogs in her animal shelter, thinks that people will love me if I wear fur as well.
Jo explains his love of the role
It’s certainly not boring being married to Cruella. She is his muse and model for his fur designs, it is a match made in heaven. It starts off being wonderful being married to Cruella, but throughout the story things start to turn sour. Horace is more of a henchman in the Disney cartoon rather than a husband, but I am not that familiar with the cartoon, which probably worked better.
I asked if Gloria had taken any inspiration from Glenn Close or the Disney Cruella. The answer is no
I really wanted people to think, Oh Cruella and really feel for her. I don’t need to take my tips from Glenn Close or Disney, my Cruella is much younger for a start. And the book is so rich, it’s all there. The novel is dark, Disney took the edge from it. We are definitely doing our own version.
Both Gloria and Jo are excited to see the real version of 101 Dalmatians on the stage, feeling that audiences really don’t know that much about it. They feel audiences must not be afraid to see something new.
The Hundred And One Dalmatians
Click here for ticket information