Countdown to Cruella Pt 2 – A Chat With The Cast

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.

Emma Continued

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

Gloria Onitiri as Cruella De Vil_credit Graeme Braidwood_preview

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.

Birmingham Repertory Theatre presents

The Hundred And One Dalmatians

Click here for ticket information


Running Wild is simply incredible at the Wolverhampton Grand

Michael Morpurgo’s Running Wild opened at the Wolverhampton Grand last night, with a show that truly made you feel like you were in an Indonesian rain forest. Telling the story of Lily, a young girl who just happened to be having a ride on a beach elephant at the point when the Tsunami struck Indonesia on that fateful Boxing Day in 2004, Running Wild is Lily’s story of survival, her quest to try and find her mother, whilst also finding out about the destruction of the rain forest and the animals that live in it. it is a children’s story, but a more hard hitting one you would struggle to find, and in a production where the puppet animals are incredibly lifelike, and life sized, you have a production that is incredibly powerful and moving.

Lily’s grandmother pays for tickets for the girl and her mother to visit Indonesia,following her Father’s birth in Iraq, killed by a roadside bomb. Indonesia is  the land of her Lily’s mother’s birth, ,and with mom struggling to get through to her daughter through her grief, a visit to a land full of elephants and nature seems the perfect way for Lily to start to recover. Lily takes an elephant ride on Oona, a beach elephant, but the Tsunami sends the elephant running, with Lily, to the safety of the rain forest. But is the rain forest, with its tigers, crocodiles and big game hunters, any more safe for a little girl just trying to find her way home? Only the bond with Oona, and the baby Orangutan Frank Lampard keeps Lily strong.

Lily, as played by the wonderful Annika Whiston, is a real heroine and role model. Despite her plight, in Whiston’s hands, Lily is never a victim, she is a fighter, a courageous, resourceful heroine who never gives up. Her relationship with Oona and Frankie is touching and beautiful. Oona is a masterpiece of a puppet, in the hands of her puppeteers she has real character – you literally fall in love with her. The Orangutans and the majestic, sleek and sinister Tiger are also brilliant in their realness. You are literally transported to the rain forest, everything feels real.

Running Wild is a story every child should watch. It pulls no punches in its powerful story, particularly in the plight of animals who are having their natural habitat destroyed by man. It works as an adventure story, a parable about grief and as a spectacle. In short, it is brilliant and inspiring.


Wed 7 Jun – Sat 10 Jun


Wolverhampton Grand

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What the Ladybird heard at Birmingham Town Hall

Every year at Christmas, Birmingham Town Hall stages a family show that is based on a children’s classic story. In the past this has seen great adaptations of ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’ and ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.’ This year they have turned their attention to Julia Donaldson with a dramatisation of ‘What the Ladybird Heard’. And whilst it is bright and colourful, and generally good fun, I don’t think it has the same appeal as recent productions.


The main reason for this is the star of the show, the ladybird. My eight year old Joe said, I think the ladybird should’ve been much bigger, maybe someone in costume. And whilst this may have been the biggest ladybird in the world, I can sort of see his point of view. From our seats in the balcony, the ladybird, which was created as a hologram, was quite hard to spot at times, especially for my three year niece – we had to keep pointing it out, which sort of defeats the object.  The same is true of the cute talking cats in the windows and the tractor and vehicles seen in the distance – they are just too small for such a visual play.

But there are plenty of other things to recommend the show.  The characters are fresh and funny, with Raymond being the standout favourite for the children. The creation of the farmyard animals from things like bicycles and wheelbarrows is magical, the hog in particular is brilliant and made the children laugh and gasp, and there are some good songs, including the one about the burglars, which help to set the scene well, although I do think that most songs are overlong for the age of the audience.

Ultimately, ‘What the Ladybird heard’ is a good introduction to theatre for young children, particularly if they love the original Julia Donaldson story. At just under an hour in length, it is probably the right amount of time for young children to sit through. And there are moments of magic, but, to me, it just isn’t magical enough.


Click here for ticket information