Culture critic Ruth Horsburgh enjoys a truly spectacular Christmas treat at the Birmingham Symphony Hall.Written by Ruth Horsburgh on 31st December 2017
REVIEW: The Hundred and One Dalmatians at The REP
The much-loved tale of The Hundred and One Dalmatians comes to spread some festive cheer at The Rep this Christmas Season. Culture Editor Natalie Welch reviews
The much-loved tale of The Hundred and One Dalmatians is making its debut at The REP this winter. I entered the theatre with high-hopes and nostalgia-fuelled excitement, hoping that I would enjoy the show as much as I enjoyed the story as a child. Luckily, the production lived up to my expectations, it was charming, funny and inventive, something that I (and I think the entire theatre) thoroughly enjoyed.
The production follows the main over-arching plot of the films and book. A cruel and evil – albeit glamourous - lady, is intent on having a Dalmatian fur coat, so obtains all the Dalmatian puppies in the land to make one. Dogs across the country then unite to help save these poor pups, eventually finding them and overcoming the baddies, before the dogs all return home just in time for Christmas celebrations.
The obvious problem with staging a production like The Hundred and One Dalmatians is getting hundred and one Dalmatians on stage. The director Tessa Walker had toyed with a few ideas, ranging from children dressed as dogs or using film projections, but it all seemed to be a logistical nightmare. The final product, however, is something that I would consider incredibly creative and inventive. The pups were puppets and an array of actors handling them. The puppets were designed by puppet designer and producer Jimmy Grimes. They wanted to create something magical and theatrical, that was definitely achieved in this production. They seem to inhabit this semi-abstract style, the dogs are not trying to be real, and I think that works for this production. Attempting to be too realistic in this show would only highlight how not real the dogs actually are. The glory of this show is in the theatricality of it, something you can also see in how they act out the car. Actual actors holding the doors and headlights around the main actor. Although you can admire the ambition and thought put into staging the dogs, at times the set up does come-off a slightly awkward, particularly when the dog puppets and their puppeteers have to interact with the human characters of the play.
The actors were fantastic, especially considering half the cast were inanimate puppies. The stage was filled with big characters, bringing the puppy magic alive. University of Birmingham alumni, Gloria Onitiri, plays the infamous Cruella de Vil. Not only is she the first black actor to play Cruella, but she plays it so well she is definitely the stand out character of the production
. Not only are her vocals superb, but she manages to turn the ultimate baddie, The Puppy Killer, into a character you love to hate. You would struggle to walk away from this production not remembering her performance.
Equally impressive were Jasper and Saul Baddun. They seem to own the second act of the show with some friendly, slapstick comedy that has the theatre rumbling with laughter. Their song and dance about being “badduns”, and their whole sequence of puppy-watching, was perhaps my favourite and the most entertaining part of the whole shows. Full of back flips, some Charlie Chaplin-esque dancing and some classic physical comedy violence, it was hard to find it utterly entertaining.
The show takes a pantomime like direction, greeting the audience hello and the characters get into the crowd, even tackling their way through the seats. If you’re in need of some fun-loving, family-friendly and brilliantly nostalgic festive cheer to get you in the spirit, this is definitely the show for you.