Dodie Smith’s The Hundred and One Dalmatians is one of the most popular stories of the 20th century. Disney, of course, contributed to the story becoming even more enduring – and perhaps cult too – given their animated movie in 1961, which became a massive hit. Interestingly, Smith’s novel has sparked a range of other spin-offs in both TV and film, with the most recent one being of course the stark rendition of Cruellawith Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. This new production at Regent’s Park Theatre had a very difficult task: not just to shed new light on one of the most iconic stories (and iconic villains!) but also to somehow bring on stage 101 Dalmatians!
The production is not spotless (excuse the pun), but surely has lots of good features. The idea (book by Johnny McKnight and from a stage adaptation by Zinnie Harris) to present Cruella de Vil as an influencer, fighting for Instagram likes and online followers, is interesting. It achieved to modernise the context and turn Cruella into a person desperate for attention/fame/recognition from her social media followed. Her hunger to be liked – even by people she doesn’t even know as she admits – grows and grows, until her obsession becomes villainous and scary. Ultimately, she is also depicted as a flawed individual, distraught, and traumatised from her own past.
Puppetry designer and director Toby Olié surely had a lot of challenges to overcome. The two main puppets – Perdi and Pongo – were very engaging, and beautiful to watch. They looked like real dogs, moved and talked with gentle ease, and had a true spark. The rest of the puppets were less imaginable, less refined perhaps. Moreover, the creative choice of only having the heads of the puppies took away from the magic. Especially the final image with all 101 dogs on stage, looked a tiny bit creepy, with heads popping out of everywhere (even on the walls!). As for the choice to bring on a real puppy towards the end? It was a beautiful moment and the audience loved it – but perhaps it could have lasted a bit longer! All in all, the puppetry designers and directors did a good job.
There were a lot of elements that kept, like glue, this production together. Elements such as the bold lighting design by Howard Hudson, the stunning costumes (particularly Cruella’s costumes) by Katrina Lindsay, and certain beautifully cartoon-like staged moments, which make this show not just arresting but very creative too. The set design and choreography, in turn, remained – sadly – uneventful and quite basic.
Ultimately though, what shines through the whole production is Kate Fleetwood – we do miss her when she is not on stage. She truly steals the show and wins the 4th star on this review. Her stage presence is phenomenal. And whilst she channels some of the other famous villains she has depicted – with great success – on stage before (like Lady Macbeth and Medea) it was the first time I heard her sing. The power with which she uses her voice ties in perfectly with her physicality and leaves the audience truly magnetised.
Overall, this is a fun production that promises a relaxed and uplifting evening at Regent’s Park beautiful theatre. There is a real buzz when you notice that a lot of the members of the audience are wearing clothes with spots, black and white items, holding puppy dolls, or imitating Cruella’s eccentric style with bizarre accessories! There is a sense of the whole audience taking part in the show’s aesthetic and cult world somehow
- Music and Lyrics by Douglas Hodge
- Based on the book by Dodie Smith
- Photo credit: Mark Senior
- Puppetry designer and director Toby Olié
- Cast includes: Kate Fleetwood, Danny Collins, Karen Fishwick, Emma Lucia, Eric Stroud, Jonny Weldon, Grace Wylde.
- Until: 28 August 2022