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101 Dalmatians - Norwich Theatre Royal (09.07.2024)

Updated: 2 days ago

Originally debuting in 2022 at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, this musical production of 101 Dalmatians has been revamped and sent out on a UK tour. It’s true to say that the first iteration wasn’t particularly favourably reviewed, so a couple of years down the line, I was intrigued to see it for myself.

This production is stated to be based on the original novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith rather than the more renowned Disney cinematic versions, but for the benefit of people like myself who’ve not read the book, it’s notable that there’s not any significant differences in the storylines, so it’s reassuringly familiar.

I won’t waste words on a synopsis, as it’s highly unlikely casual theatre-goers will spot this and think to themselves ‘ooh, I wonder what this is all about?’, but what you do need to know is that while you won't leave the auditorium humming any of the largely forgettable tunes, it is eminently watchable and a real crowd-pleaser, and crucially, one that children in particular will enjoy.

Linford Johnson and Emma Thornett are marvellous as puppeteers and the voices of Pongo and Perdi, whose chance meeting in the park results in their owners, Tom and Danielle (Samuel Thomas and Jessie Elland) setting up home together.

The puppets largely overshadow the people in the show, but not so with the sensational Faye Tozer as Cruella de Vil. We are introduced to the character in her fashion studio in the stylish number called Animal Lover, and after the first half ends with another big Cruella number (Für fur), the second half almost entirely belongs to this most fabulous of villains.

Cruella is supported by nephews Jasper and Casper (the brilliant duo of Danny Hendrix and Charles Braunton), who fulfil the roles of reluctant henchmen. As a villainous trio, they were pure panto, with comedy pratfalls, toilet humour, and silly songs which delighted the children in the audience.

The puppetry throughout was excellent, and the puppets themselves are as accomplished as you'd imagine when designed and directed by Jimmy Grimes, who was an associate puppet director for the National Theatre's production of War Horse.

With my critic head on, I do feel compelled to say that the script wasn't the strongest. However, where I could have been cringeing at some of the gags, it was saved somewhat by the delivery, in particular from the trio of Cruella, Jasper, and Casper, who had charm in abundance. The songs also left a bit to be desired, with what I felt was clunky lyricism, but the vocals from this cast were excellent all round, and helped me overlook this to an extent.

The puppets did restrict the musical numbers to being a fairly static affair, although the standout number of the show for me was The Pub Song which, with the ensemble freed from the shackles of their canine companions, meant they were able to cut loose and indulge in some energetic choreography.

As a visual spectacle, it's well worth a watch, but there's some eye-catching performances in this too, and most of all, it's a great family show. 101 Dalmatians continues at Norwich Theatre Royal until the 13 July.


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