Review: The Hundred and One Dalmatians at the Rep Theatre, Birmingham

Writer: Dodie Smith

Adapter: Debbie Issit

Director: Tessa Walker

Christmas 2017 is now a memory but that doesn’t take anything away from the Birmingham Rep’s production on The Hundred and One Dalmatians.

Dodie Smith’s story is rarely adapted for the British stage. Perhaps this is due to the one big question; just how do you put all of those puppies on stage alongside the extra animal characters and not forgetting the human characters too? Director Tessa Walker decides to use puppets and that decision is a barking success.

Similar to War Horse, in order to engage with the story you truly have to believe that the puppets on stage are the animals they represent. Puppet designer and director Jimmy Grimes has done just that. He has crafted a huge array of ingenious designs that allow the animal and the actor to be at one with each other. Lakesha Cammock, Olivier Wellington and Emma Thornett embody the adult dalmatians Perdita, Pongo and Missis. There’s not a moment on stage where they lose their lovable characters.

Cruella is played by Gloria Onitiri. It is thought this is the first time that a black actor takes to this role. Onitiri creates a well rounded and powerful woman who gets under your skin. Creating a scary yet also relatable money driven woman makes you feel a bit sorry for her at the end when she is left with nothing.

The production could only work if the script is as good as the puppets and the actors. Fresh from the Rep’s production of Nativity! Debbie Issit adapts Smith’s original text into a story of family love and the dangers of money. The closing moments of the show are particularly poignant and moving.

The Hundred and One Dalmatians is a gripping tale told with some beautiful and lovable puppets. Musical numbers by James Frewer work hand in hand with Issit’s heart of gold script to create a delight of a show and one that will leave you wiping away some of those cold January blues.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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