101 Dalmatians stays at Birmingham Repertory Theatre until 13 January 2018 – book your tickets here: 101 Dalmatians Tickets
Star rating: *****
101 Dalmatians – no easy feat for a stage production, one might imagine, getting all those Dalmatians up on stage in one go with no unruly canine behaviour, etc. What’s the answer? Use puppets of course, reminiscent of War Horse and it worked fantastically well.
From the opening number which introduced a number of different breeds of dogs to the arrival of Pongo (Oliver Wellington) and Missis (Emma Thornett) who fall in love, as do their owners; Mr Dearly (Morgan Philpott) and Mrs Dearly (Nadi Kemp-Sayfi). Mr and Mrs Dearly are all you hope they will be; homely and forging their family with their two Dalmatians and the puppies due to arrive. Kudos also to Philpott and Kemp-Sayfi for their puppetry skills – when they respectively performed as Sheepdog and Patch I almost forgot that they were also Mr and Mrs Dearly. The scene is set so smoothly and seamlessly that you almost don’t notice that quite a hefty piece of the story has already been laid out. The introduction of Cruella De Vil (Gloria Onitiri) was all it should be, pure evil on stage in an almost caricature state and blood thirsty for her next fur. From her antics at the wheel of her inspired motorcar to interaction with Mrs Dearly – each move was measured, brilliantly timed and emulated the popular Disney version of the character. The Badduns (Luke Murphy and Lewis Griffin) made hapless sidekicks and gave superb visually physical performances.
From Cruella’s desperation for her Dalmatian coat to the kidnapping of the pups and subsequent rescue – it is a production de force with catchy, narrative musical numbers and a glorious set which lends itself to tricks. Miss this at your peril, Tessa Walker has directed one of the best festive shows I’ve seen so far this season.