This new production of the classic tale of 101 Dalmatians doesn’t quite hit the spot.

© Mark Senior

Fellow critics have also given less than positive reviews of this show, some have even been hurled abuse over their thoughts. I just thought I’d take this moment to remind people why theatre is so great, and that is because it is SUBJECTIVE. We will all like and dislike different productions, and some shows may divide opinion, just because one person dislikes a show doesn’t mean you will as well, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And reviewing theatre does not mean you will like every production, integrity is essential and reviewers would be untrustworthy if they gave everything 5 stars. And on this occasion, I agree with the more negative reviews of this production…

This production is based on the 1956 novel by Dodie Smith, and is very different from the Disney film which we all know and love – I guess to ensure no copyright infringement occurs.

The staging by Colin Richmond upon first glance is impressive, spelling out the title of the show with the 0 in 101 being a red dog’s collar with a lead attached to a tree behind the stage. However, during the performance the large letters, rarely spelt out Dalmatians and I found them rather distracting. I spent much of the time wondering what the letters were now spelling out, after they had been rearranged. The flip side of each letter was used to transport the audience to different settings, for example to Dominic and Danielle’s house, which was effective.

I felt, especially in Act One, that the company did not utilise the stage to it’s full potential. For most of Act One the front section of the stage was used but not the entire stage. There were however some moments where the actors and puppets came out into the audience which meant people could see the puppets up close, which younger members of the audience enjoyed.

© Mark Senior

There are shows on in the West End which have incredible puppetry such as, Life of Pi and The Lion King, and therefore the standard for puppetry has been raised in recent years. Unfortunately within this show, the puppetry wasn’t quite on the same level. For Pongo and Perdi, the front half of the dogs are puppets with the actor’s legs making up the back part of the dog. This gives rather a strange look to the puppets, with the actors playing Pongo and Perdi at a rather odd angle to the dogs. Also, there is a key moment within the show which is supposed to illicit an emotional response within the audience as Perdi is leant over her puppy trying desperately to revive it. However, in this moment the actor playing Perdi (Emma Lucia) separates from the puppet, with another member of the company taking over from her. Lucia is then stood near the puppy, which feels strangely disjointed, and makes no sense whatsoever for her to be separate from the puppet.

The puppies are disjointed heads. I understand the need for this so they could have the vast number of puppies required, but detached Dalmatian heads still seemed an odd choice. What was even more strange was the cats. Which are a cat head attached to something which resembles the shape of tinsel, why the puppies and cats have no limbs is a question I’d love to know the answer to.

Kate Fleetwood plays Cruella de Vil very well, and delivers some powerhouse vocals. But some of the creative decisions surrounding Cruella felt unnecessary. Within this production she is portrayed as an Influencer, however she actually appears to be someone that spreads hate and bigoted opinions online. They have tried to make her seem right-wing but some of her lines contradict this. I also felt that they have tried to shove as many words like ‘hashtag’ and ‘triggered’ into her lines, which didn’t really make sense and made it difficult to know whether she was a protagonist or antagonist. Particularly as she was the only fully dimensional character within the show – we did not really dig deep into anyone else. Which made it difficult to emotionally connect to any of the characters.

I cannot fault any members of the cast, my issues here are with the material itself. The book by Johnny McKnight and Stage Adaptation by Zinnie Harris, are the downfall of this show. There are some lines scattered within the production which are meant to be humourous, but instead make members of the audience laugh at the show not with it. One such line is when Cruella says that her sister doesn’t have a backbone, and her nephew says something along the lines of ‘that’s because a train ran over it’ – which was rather on the cusp for a show marketing itself to children, and made me and my guest cringe rather than laugh.

The entire cast worked well with what they had, and the younger members of the cast that played Button, Lucky, Patch and Spud all gave brilliant performances and flawless vocals.

© Mark Senior

Act Two was better than the first Act, during which the show struggled to find its grove and came across as quite low energy. The end of Act One has a moment where the company all don spotted coats and lay down under Cruella to show her wearing the spotted coat she longs for – this was staged incredibly well and is very effective.

The music and lyrics by Douglas Hodge are mostly unmemorable, as I am sat writing this review the singular song I can remember is Litterbugs. Some of the lyrics within the songs are at best, weird, I remember in one number hearing someone sing ‘hyperglycaemia’ why? I have no idea.

The absolute highlight of the night is when a real Dalmatian puppy is brought onto the stage during the finale, the audience went crazy for this – me included! The finale is also the standout number in this production, the choreography is great and this is a high energy performance with the whole company in-sync. It’s a shame this isn’t the standard for all of the numbers within the show.

101 Dalmatians had great potential to be a must see summer production, but the writing in both the book and lyrics lets this show down. I wanted to love this show, but it failed to hit the spot for me unfortunately. I’m very sure that children and younger people will enjoy this show, this is evident in the audience’s reactions. However for people that frequent the theatre, it may not be one that sticks in you mind post curtain call.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

2 Star Review 3 Star Review 4 Star Review 5 Star Review 2022 2023 Adaptation Almeida Cabaret Camden Fringe Cast Announcement Christmas Comedy Dance Drag Edinburgh Fringe Edinburgh Fringe Interviews Fringe Immersive Interviews Jukebox Musical LGBTQIA+ Lyric Hammersmith Manchester Musical New Musical News New Wimbledon Theatre North West Off West End Park Theatre Play Review Revival Richmond Theatre Round Up Royal Court Theatre Shakespeare Show Announcement Show Recommendations Soho Theatre Southwark Playhouse Touring Production VAULT Festival West End

    Spine-tingling yet heart-warming, Mark Gatiss’s retelling of A Christmas Carol truly encapsulates the haunting atmosphere of a Victorian ghost story, balanced out with enough humour so as to capture the festive season. Led by Keith Allen as Scrooge, with Peter Forbes as Marley, this show is perfect for Christmas viewing. The set design by Paul Wills is instantly captivating, containing stacks of metal cabinets towering over the theatre, moveable by the cast to allow space for other central props like doors, beds and tables. In addition to this, the puppetry design by Matthew Forbes is incredibly clever, adding creepy elements to the show such … More A CHRISTMAS CAROL – REVIEW – ALEXANDRA PALACE
    The title of this winner of Theatre 503’s 2023 International Playwriting Award by Roxy Cook may seem like the set-up to a joke, but the narrative that unspools is instead an affectionate, gently barbed and at base quite sobering portrait of three ordinary souls (and one restless feline) adrift in modern Moscow. There is much affable, satirical back-and-forth commentary on the accepted myths & stereotypes of the Russian spirit & soul. Beset by the indignities of age, opportunism, graft, fatigue, the characters orbit one another, doomed to play out their roles in an unjust, predatory and saturnine universe. The play opens … More A WOMAN WALKS INTO A BANK – REVIEW – THEATRE503
    Peter Pan Goes Wrong first premiered in London at the Pleasance Theatre in 2013, and earlier this year the show made its Broadway debut. Now the production is back in the West End for the Christmas season. Following on from The Play That Goes Wrong, in this production, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is staged by the fictitious Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and goes awry, disastrously so. The meta-comedy is filled with slapstick comedy, sometimes the humour may be predictable and silly, but it’s universally funny throughout – there is something for everyone here, and the laughs come thick and fast … More PETER PAN GOES WRONG – REVIEW – LYRIC THEATRE
    Drawing heavily from the classic canon of the British supernatural, High Tide’s trio of contemporary Gothic narratives uses traditional storytelling formats to address contemporary themes. Directed by Elayce Ismail, reverent musical interludes accompany tales of apparitions and nighttime conjurings that speak of women from the East of England. Unfortunately, the effect is less chilling and more lightweight, with conventional structures, predictable plot twists and an over-reliance on external forces to drive narrative shoring up some of the less relatable aspects of the genre. Nicola Werenowska’s The Beach House, perhaps the cleanest of the three tales, tells of a mother and … More GHOST STORIES BY CANDLELIGHT – REVIEW – SAM WANAMAKER PLAYHOUSE
    Drum roll please…(Cue a literal drum rolling across the stage.) The Lyric pantomime is one of traditions with the return of many well-loved jokes and skits. Costumes and sets are all made at the Lyric itself by Good Teeth, with set pieces being reused year on year. This year Cinderella gets the Hammersmith makeover, with some success. The costuming is fun and vibrant, with the ugly stepsisters’ equine pyjamas and hoop-skirted ball gowns giving all the wrong kinds of extra you need for those characters. Cinderella’s on stage dress transformation is magical and really well-timed. The Dame, Lady Jelly-Bottom’s, outfits … More CINDERELLA – REVIEW – LYRIC HAMMERSMITH

Leave a Reply