Wednesday, 27 July 2022

REVIEW: 101 Dalmatians at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Coming straight from a triumph run of Legally Blonde, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre bring us their second musical of the 2022 season with a new adaptation of 101 Dalmatians. The show was previously set for the 2020 season, was postponed until 2021 and finally makes its premiere this summer.  

The story has been updated to current times with Cruella becoming a modern-day influencer, sometimes with modernisations, it can be a little ‘in your face’ but with this, it didn’t seem that way. Although there were many plot holes around the changes in the story, including the reason why Cruella has a fascination with the puppies, it wasn’t so vital that we got answers from it but it did lack in the character's development. And I’ll say this, Dominic and Danielle really need to invest in a new lock on their front door. 

The show obviously looked at the likes of Matilda and aimed for that, and whilst the style of the show works somewhat it doesn’t translate into the space very well. The wordy lyrics get swallowed up in the open air and the understanding of the audience becomes vague. 

The music and lyrics, by Douglas Hodge, didn’t hit the mark. Whilst I respect the concept, we have seen it before (with the likes of Matilda). Recreating a successful children's show doesn't mean the same success can be replicated. It didn’t seem original and there were not any memorable numbers, not even a big 11’o’clock number for Cruella herself. Well, maybe there was, but I can’t remember it. Even an hour after the show. 

Where this show really fails is we don’t have anyone to root for. With the lack of character development and plot holes, we don’t have a clear hero and this lead to children in the audience not having an interest in the action until act 2, when the chase becomes a little more active. And whilst this is clearly a children’s show, I wouldn’t recommend bringing anyone under the age of 10 as their attention will not last, especially during the long-winded act 1. 

With puppetry design and direction by Toby OliĆ©, it took me a little while to understand what they were doing but I ended up loving the ideas and concepts. The use of puppets is a very common thing in theatre nowadays with the likes of The Life of Pi and Animal Farm but also taken into mainstream commercial theatre like Frozen and The Lion King. This is original and new, it bridges the cap between puppetry styles we’ve seen in Avenue Q (where the actor doesn’t look at the puppet and talks directly outwards) and of that in War Horse (where the actors are focused on the puppet for us to believe it is a real, breathing animal). It's beautiful and not something I’ve seen before. 

As Cruella, Kate Fleetwood is a triumph. She brings an empty script with not a lot of background to life and for someone who is not known as a singer, she brings the house down with powerful vocals. The score seems to have been written for an actor who doesn’t have a strong voice, but Fleetwood does and this should have been amended to showcase her talents. 

The standouts of the night were Jonny Weldon as Casper and Danny Collins as Pongo. Weldon was funny and a really lovely addition to the story and Collins brought incredible vocals and a performance that captured the children in the audience. 

The ensemble, whilst incredibly talented, didn’t add to the story. The big dance numbers were unnecessary and they were more useful puppeteering around the action to create these imaginative scenes. 

Whilst this isn’t the best, it's not awful. It has potential but I’m afraid this miss might damage its future. An interesting watch for theatregoers. 

Review by Mark Swale 

Rating: ★★

Seat: M26 | Price of Ticket: £65

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