Review: 101 Dalmatians, at Regent’s Park Open-Air theatre

Thursday, 4th August — By Richard Osley

Perdi and Pongo puppeteered by Yana Penrose Emma Lucia Ben Thompson and Danny Collins. Photo Mark Senior

Perdi and Pongo puppeteered by Yana Penrose, Emma Lucia, Ben Thompson and Danny Collins. Photo: Mark Senior

THERE’S something special about 101 Dalmatians being performed in the park where Dodie Smith partly set her enduring tale about dognapped pets. In a way the picturesque setting makes you yearn for a more traditional production, however.

The back-breaking, gorgeous puppetry guiding the star pooches Pongo and Perdita, and a few other characters along the way, certainly does justice to a national treasure. It is so elegantly pulled off that there probably isn’t a need to reach for such a panto version of Cruella De Vil. Perhaps boos and hisses are always to be expected and Kate Fleetwood is no cut-price Glenn Close in the main role.

But it does feel a little try-hard to turn her into a social media influencer desperate for followers and realising spotted dogs are good for traffic.

Fair enough, maybe we needed to learn once more that you shouldn’t crave online love so much that you’d do absolutely anything and that followers are not the same as real friends, but the idea scalpels out the menace.

Maybe they didn’t want to send anybody home too scared, but it does finish past bedtime for those who would still be haunted the next day. That’s where the central unevenness probably lies: is it a classy new musical for adults?

The songs and set pieces, and jokes about how preposterous but rewarding dog ownership is suggest it can be.

They have after all crowbarred in a Boris Johnson one-liner and a slightly strained Brexit allegory about division.

Or is it a kids’ show? The biggest laughs and awws came from the younger members of the audience, who on the flipside were restless during the ballads. So take it as that: a family night out, not a date night.

If a line falls flat or a song drifts on, just admire the puppets. They alone are worth a visit.

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