Review: 101 DALMATIANS, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

A production that needs more bark and more bite

By: Jul. 25, 2022
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Review: 101 DALMATIANS, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Review: 101 DALMATIANS, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre In theory, Dodie Smith's well-loved story of 101 Dalmatians is the perfect material for Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Smith lived in nearby Primrose Hill with her own dalmatians and her tale of the malevolent Cruella de Vil and the adventures of dogs Pongo and Perdi fits with the atmospheric surroundings of the park.

From Glenn Close's iconic version, to Emma Stone's modern incarnation, Cruella de Vil is one of literature's ultimate villains. Kate Fleetwood brings a modern and almost panto-esque take on the character, complete with bejewelled vape and towering Louboutin heels. No longer an aging fashion designer, she is that most modern of creations: an anti-woke influencer and professional controversialist.

Fleetwood is suitably sneering, with snide asides about immigration and incels, she commands the stage as she struts around. George Bukhari and Jonny Weldon have fun as Cruella's hapless nephews Jasper and Casper, but are underwritten. Karen Fishwick and Eric Stroud provide the contrast as the rather bland 'nice' dog-owners Danielle and Dominic.

Timothy Sheader's creative direction fills the stage with, occasionally too much, activity. However, there are some truly eye-catching moments and clever, comic book-like effects such as Cruella's eyes popping right out of her head and an inspired slow motion car crash where parts of the car detach and come back together.

Recently seen in an immersive version of Animal Farm, Toby Olié's brilliant puppetry is in evidence again. Dogs Perdi and Pongo are brought to life through concertina necks, sweetly designed faces and hind legs played by actors with nicely realistic sprung tails. The movement of the two dogs is hyper-realistic and beautifully realised by the puppeteers, with Yana Penrose and Danny Collins completing the character of the dogs as their voices. The plethora of puppies is less successful, with floating heads looking more like finger puppets than real dogs.

The influence of social media on modern society is potentially a clever angle to take the story. Today, controversy often means popularity. It is horribly credible that the viral video of Cruella beating Pongo and Perdita increases her followers, but less so that it raises her popularity. As a nation of such dedicated dog-lovers, this just doesn't ring true.

This is a family-friendly production and children will love it, but there is little to keep the adults entertained. A few more witty asides and a more engaging script would be welcome.

As a musical version, there are a few catchy tracks, such as the increasingly manic "Litterbugs". Fleetwood, who has the strongest vocals by far, is given the best songs, with the rousing Act One finale of "Für Fur" and the sinister "I Can Smell Puppy". However, overall, the production fails to make an impact. There are no stand-out earworms that stay with you after the production ends and a couple of tracks such as "Dogma" sound disjointed and not tight enough.

Sarah Holmes' costumes rely primarily on a monochrome pallet, with some interesting creations such as a hippy Afghan hound and a poodle dyed pink. Cruella's costumes are suitably extravagant, but it's Carole Hancock's outrageous wigs that create the most interest.

101 Dalmatians is a family-friendly show that is sure to delight the younger members of the audience. Adults may have preferred more bite.

101 Dalmatians is at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre until 28 August

Photo Credit: Mark Senior