How a 101 Dalmatians would play as a stage show, particularly one based more on the Dodie Smith book rather than the Disney version was a question that I had been asking, particularly after watching a rehearsal session early last month. The answer is that it is a totally wonderful, heartwarming piece of theatre that makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes you gasp at the sheer brilliance of the puppetry, and gasp at what is the cutest spectacle you will see all Winter. It is, is short, a masterpiece that I totally fell in love with.
Pongo and Missis meet when their owners fall in love. It is love at first sight for the dalmatians too, and soon they are one big happy family, a happiness that is further enhanced by the news that Missis is expecting a delivery of pups. But that happiness is short lived when Mrs Dearly bumps into an old school friend, Cruella De Vil, a fur obsessed creature who takes and unhealthy interest in the puppies. Little do the Dearly’s know that Cruella is currently coveting, indeed obsessing over a dalmatian fur coat, and needs the dalmatian pups to make her warped dream a reality. The Dearly’s refuse to sell their puppies to her, but there is more than one way to skin a pup, and with the help of her husband Horace, and her henchmen the Badduns, she devises a plan to steal the puppies and get her coat. Will Pongo and Missis, and their friend Perdita, get the puppies back before Cruella is able to carry out her evil plan?
First we need to talk about the puppets that dominate the stage for large parts of the show. The range of ways that have been developed by puppetry designer Jimmy Grimes to house so many dogs on the stage are both ingenious and delightful. They truly enchant the audience, particularly the youngest members. There are a range of dogs and cats, as well as the dalmatians, and the fact that they dogs have been created to resemble their owners is just a wonderful, funny touch. In addition, all the animals have their own character and personality that is brought to live wonderfully by the talented puppeteers. In particular, Pongo, Perdita and Missis are exquisite, given their own unique personalities and mannerisms by Oliver Wellington, Lakesha Cammock and Emma Thornett. You feel their pain at losing their puppies, and this is no mean feat when you are working with animal puppets.
Of course, there are also acting performances by humans in this play, and, in Gloria Onitiri, we have a true Cruella who dismisses the other Cruella’s with just a swish of her fur cape. She is phenomenal, dominating the stage with her style, beauty and cruelness. Her monologues, which she sings, are so powerful and memorable, and, it has to be said, wickedly funny too. She may not have got her wish to get that coat, but you know she would have totally rocked it, in all honesty.
Cruella is supported brilliantly by the fabulous Jo Servi as Horace. The dynamics of his relationship with Cruella are integral to the play, and they have wonderful chemistry together. Highlights of his performance include the jazzy 1920s dance routines that he performs with Cruella, and his own final monologue.
The Dearly’s are lovely. Nadi Kemp-Sayfi is perfect as Mrs Dearly, the right combination of kindness, and a bit of insecurity when Cruella is around. Morgan Philpott shines as Mr Dearly, having a lot of the shows funny lines as he gets confused over whether it is his wife, or the dog that is pregnant, and also very funny as he describes Cruella, unaware she is listening to every word.
The Badduns are also hilariously funny in their ineptness and reluctance to hurt the puppies. They have so many funny moments, from their dance routine to something that resembles ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, to the way they try to catch the escaping puppies, encountering the older dogs and the feisty cat Tibbs (Mei Mac). Their musical number is performed with verve and swagger, and even though they are bad through and through, the audience absolutely loved them.
The whole play is flawless, from the pastel coloured sets, the stunning costumes worn by Gloria Onitiri, to the perfection of the direction from Tessa Walker.
This is one show that should not be missed this Christmas. It is simply stunning.
30 Nov 2017 – 13 Jan 18
Click here for ticket information