REVIEW: 101 DALMATIANS (Open Air Theatre)

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s 101 Dalmatians is a new musical with music and lyrics by Douglas Hodge and a book by Johnny McKnight. Based on the 1956 book The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, the musical brings to life beloved characters Pongo, Perdi, all those puppies and of course the dastardly Cruella du Vil!

Set and played in Regents Park, the musical revolves around infamous influencer Cruella de Vil (played by Kate Fleetwood) as sets her sights on a new Dalmatian fur coat to wear to an upcoming ball. Not affiliated with Disney, this production is set modern day, with pop culture references, actor-musos weaving their way in and out of the story, cleverly designed puppetry and music that will have you clapping along by the end.

As an ensemble, the cast work well to deliver an enjoyable production. Playing multiple characters throughout with puppets and a variety of black and white costume changes, they really work hard and it’s not long before you’re drawn into the story. It’s clear a lot of thought has been put into Timothy Sheader’s direction, Colin Richmond set design and Toby Olié’s puppets as the overall effect is one of whimsy and fun. That being said, the production seems inconsistent and confused with its book, treatment of characters, style and music. While Kate Fleetwood does an outstanding job with the de Vil material and has some spine-tingling vocal moments, her de Vil is given an Essex accent when talking but then drops it when she sings, she spends the first act talking about how she wants to skin puppies alive but then has a ballad where the audience is encouraged to emphasise with her. As the show progresses and the puppies go missing, Pongo and Perdi race across London to find them, however when the runt of the litter gets sick and is close to freezing to death, Pongo decides he’s had enough and tells Perdi to leave the little one. While this gives Emma Lucia’s Perdi a touching ballad, it’s overshadowed by a father willing to quickly leave one of his pups behind. Not all musicals need memorable songs and I think with some more work and a new book restoring the source material, this 101 Dalmatians could really be something special.

There’s really nothing quite like the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, seeing a show as the sun goes down is magical. This production of 101 Dalmatians is clearly aimed at children, with it’s well-known Disney+ watchable story, some catchy songs and imaginative puppetry. Overall an enjoyable show and I just hope it has life outside this production and is able to find it’s… paws.

Reviewed by Stuart James