‘I want those puppies’: THE HUNDRED & ONE DALMATIONS – Birmingham

In Children's theatre, London theatre, Opinion, Plays, Regional theatre, Reviews by Ian FosterLeave a Comment

Birmingham Repertory Theatre – until 13 January 2018

“I want those puppies”… I can be accused of a fair few things but not a lack of adventurousness. It’s no secret that I am no great fan of puppets but I do try and test my prejudices on a fairly regular basis, something made spectacularly easy at this time of year as theatreland’s interpretation of family-friendly festive fare apparently means puppets for everyone!

The main reason though for traveling to Birmingham Rep for The Hundred and One Dalmatians was to see Cruella De Vil played by Gloria Onitiri, an actress who I’ve enjoyed following since the Avenue Q days more than a decade ago now. And she did not disappoint with this most iconic of characters, ferociously dramatic and unapologetically dark, she’s an absolute force of nature on this stage. The rest of the production around her didn’t quite land as effectively though, for me at least.

Director Tessa Walker has employed Jimmy Grimes to create some beautifully empathetic puppets for Pongo, Missis and their brood and it makes for some striking tableaux against the backdrop of Jamie Vartan’s set. But as effectively as they are manipulated (Oliver Wellington and Emma Thornett), embodying such key characters this way creates something of an emotional disconnect.

There’s more fun in the straightforwardly human antics of hapless henchmen (Lewis Griffin and Luke Murphy’s Badduns) or the larger-scale picture created by the gentle fun-poking at dog owners’ tendencies to look like their canine friends (or is it really the other way around…).

The Hundred and One Dalmatians is never less than watchable though and Debbie Isitt’s adaptation is markedly faithful to Dodie Smith’s original which feels most appropriate for this time of year, as does the matter-of-factly diverse cast (appropriate for any time of the year actually).

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Ian Foster
Since 2003, Ian Foster has been writing reviews of plays, sometimes with a critical element, on his blog Ought to Be Clowns, which has been listed as one of the UK's Top Ten Theatre Blogs by Lastminute.com, Vuelio and Superbreak. He averages more than 350+ shows a year. He says: "Call me a reviewer, a critic or a blogger, and you will apparently put someone or other's nose out of joint! So take it or leave it, essentially this is my theatrical diary, recording everything I go to see at the theatre in London and beyond, and venturing a little into the worlds of music and film/TV where theatrical connections can be made."
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Ian Foster on FacebookIan Foster on RssIan Foster on Twitter
Ian Foster
Since 2003, Ian Foster has been writing reviews of plays, sometimes with a critical element, on his blog Ought to Be Clowns, which has been listed as one of the UK's Top Ten Theatre Blogs by Lastminute.com, Vuelio and Superbreak. He averages more than 350+ shows a year. He says: "Call me a reviewer, a critic or a blogger, and you will apparently put someone or other's nose out of joint! So take it or leave it, essentially this is my theatrical diary, recording everything I go to see at the theatre in London and beyond, and venturing a little into the worlds of music and film/TV where theatrical connections can be made."

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