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101 Dalmatians, Birmingham REP - review with pictures

Entertainment | Published:

Following the financial disaster of Sleeping Beauty, which failed to recoup its 6 million dollar outlay, the Disney studios turned to Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel to help re-establish its reputation, and the 1961 animated version became an enduring success.

In 1996 the studios looked at the advances in CGI and animatronics and produced a film version using real Dalmatians, although some two hundred and thirty Dalmatian puppies and twenty adult Dalmatian dogs were involved in the process. That version was a commercial success and went on to spawn a sequel, a television series ad a video game.

Stage versions of the story are much more problematical. You can’t have a hundred independent-minded animals on a stage, and to have them depicted by cartoons or mechanical animals would not work.

Oliver Wellington as Pongo and Emma Thornett as Missis

So, how has writer Debbie Isitt and director Tessa Walker adapted the story for the Birmingham REP stage? With shows like Warhorse and The Lion King having showed that puppets can be used most effectively there was an obvious answer and the result is a production to delight all the family.

This talented group of actors, musicians and puppeteers combine their skills to present the story as to how Dalmatians Pongo, Perdita and Missis go in search of their puppies which had been stolen by Cruella de Vil to create a Dalmatian fur coat.

Gloria Onitiri makes Cruella the epitome of evil who will stop at nothing to achieve her ambition, and draws gasps of horror from the younger members of the audience as she outlines her plans, supported by her husband Horace de Vil, ably played by Jo Servi.

Luke Murphy as Saul, Lewis Griffin as Jasper, Gloria Onitiri as Cruella de Vil and Jo Servi as Horace De Vil

Nadi Kemp-Sayfi, as Mrs Dearly, and Morgan Philpott, as Mr Dearly, are the Dalmatian-loving couple who devote their lives to their black and white spotted tribe.

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Luke Murphy and Lewis Griffin are the bungling Baddun brothers who are charged with turning puppies into a fashionable fur coat, but fortunately fail miserably.

The puppeteers bring a wealth of expression to their characters and there’s an especially poignant moment when one of Perdita’s litter, which has been still-born, is revived by Mr Dearly and is subsequently called Lucky.

Morgan Philpott as Mr Dearly, Nadi Kemp-Sayfi as Mrs Dearly, Oliver Wellington as Pongo and Emma Thornett as Missis

Designer Jamie Vartan's set is minimalist, but does allow the action to flow and lighting designer Simon Bond creates some very atmospheric effects.

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This is undoubtedly one of the best Christmas season shows the Rep has produced for some time, essentially being a heart-warming story brilliantly portrayed. My seven year old grandsons were entranced from start to finish.

It’s a show which is bound to set all the family tails wagging and certainly not one to be missed. If you choose not to go you may be likened to the residents of Becontree, which as we all know is just a little bit beyond Barking.

101 Dalmatians runs at the REP until 13th January.

By Jerald Smith

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