Morgan Philpott as Mr Dearly and Gloria Onitiri as Cruella with Pongo and Missis. Pictures: Graeme Braidwood

The 101 Dalmatians

Birmingham Rep


The Rep has found itself a wonderful Christmas treat – complete with spots - to delight families over the festive season.

Children love an adventure story, particularly one with a bit of gory danger involved and this one has it all with a simple, easy to follow, fast paced tale of kidnap and rescue.

To make things simple we have and clearly defined goodies and baddies including a pair of hired rogues, Jasper and Saul, who can’t manage half a brain between them - and all but steal the show – along with talking dogs . . . lots of talking dogs - 102 to be exact if you count the old Old English sheepdog – and that’s without the two cats.

If you could get dogs to play the parts you would win Britain’s Got Talent forever, but you can’t, so, in War Horse tradition, the production uses the next best thing, puppets – all designed and directed by Jimmy Grimes. The puppets are stylised, no back legs for instance – but we are now so used to the use of puppets that hardly matters.

In our minds and certainly in the minds of children, they are dogs, and although their voices are those of the puppeteers, the flat capped, waistcoated puppeteers become invisible even though they are in full view. The greatest special effect on any stage is always imagination.

Emma Thornett and Oliver Wellington do a splendid job as Missis and Pongo with Lakesha Cammock weighing in as the rescue Dalmatian Perdita while Mei Mac is a real cat person with Tibbs and Cruella’s Persian as well as puppy Roly.

The hard-working ensemble cover the other 90 odd animals – including a very clever opening scene with dogs on flexible rods as leads which was remarkably effective.

Meanwhile, back at the plot, Mr and Mrs Dearly met walking their Dalmatians Pongo and Missis and, as is the way of things, now married, they find themselves with a houseful of puppies


Luke Murphy as Saul and Lewis Griffin as Jasper and a stageful of dalmatians

All is well until they run into old schoolfriend Cruella de Vil – cruel devil as Mr Dearly points out -who wears fur with everything and who decides she wants a Dalmatian coat, offering to buy all the puppies.

So, when every Dalmatian puppy in the land goes missing it hardly needs the combined efforts of Maigret and Poirot to work out who is behind it, Cruella!

Time for spotty Paw Patrol to the rescue, or, in this case, Pongo and Missis, along with the sheepdog and Tibbs the cat.

Nadi Kemp-Sayfi and Morgan Philpot give us a very ordinary Mr and Mrs Dearly. They are middle class, comfortable and, well, unremarkable – and they do it remarkably well, the very model of suburban respectability and conformity – if you ignore the fact they were happy to have 18 Dalmatians living in the house, and end up with 101 - and a cat.

Not that they are going to get away with just that. Mrs Dearly finds herself doubling up as puppeteer to puppy Patch and hubby becomes a splendid, retired colonel type of Old English Sheepdog.

Gloria Onitiri gives us a two dimensional Cruella de Vil but when the first dimension is wicked and the second evil there is not much room for anything else. She turns nasty into an art form with a lovely flounce and a great voice that can really belt out a song.

Her husband Horace, fighting a losing battle trying to fulfil her every whim – and she has a lot of them – is played with due deference – or is it fear – by Jo Servi.

And that leaves us with the Badduns, the hapless duo with IQs just scraping into double figures in a wonderful performance by Lewis Griffin as Jasper and Luke Murphy as Saul. They might be thieving rogues tasked with killing and skinning 98 Dalmatian puppies, but they are very funny with humour that appeals to both adults and children, so much so, they come close to stealing the show.

There was one magic moment when they appeared coming down the aisles looking for the missing puppies – the aisles are used a lot in this production. These are the baddies remember, who are being paid to kill the puppies, but one small boy was desperately trying to be helpful by telling them where the pups were hiding on stage. A career as a supergrass awaits.


Happy Families: Morgan Philpott as Mr Dearly and Nadi Kemp-Sayfi as Mrs Dearly with Oliver Wellington with Pongo and Emma Thornett with Missis

James Vartan’s design is both clever and flexible with minimal props to create the de Vil home, the Dearly’s house, a barn, a church and a street with a platform to provide extra scenes and then a back wall with roadways heading off into the distance where we can see cars, vans, houses, churches and even dogs for in the distance.

The car and motorbike and sidecar when they appear on stage are particularly effective with cast members holding doors, grilles, lights and even exhaust.

The platform also houses the band underneath under musical directeor Jamew Frewer who also composed the music. The band shrank and grew from keyboard and drums to the addition of sax, tuba and clarinet, played by members of the ensemble when they were not playing at being puppies.

It is all very slick and clever and Tess Walker the director has kept it both simple to watch and follow for youngsters, who seemed universally enchanted by the whole thing, and paced fast enough to ensure there was no time for young attentions to wander. Yet it is still interesting and highly watchable for adults which is no mean feat.

It was adapted by Debbie Isitt, who gave us the recent Nativity!, and she went back to Dodie Smith’s original 1956 novel for her adaptation, which is darker than both the 1961 Disney cartoon and the 1991 live action film starring Glenn Close as Cruella de Vil.

Not that that matters, this is classic good against evil, heroes against villains and kids – and parents – will lap it up - a splendidly spotty alternative to panto. To 13-01-18

Roger Clarke


Index page Rep Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre