101 Dalmatians

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre


It's a gift for the Open Air theatre that Dodie Smith's novel is set around Regent's Park near her Marylebone home. And the spirited opening number in Timothy Sheader's busy but patchy children's musical sees joggers, dog walkers and bandstand musicians, bustling around the open space where Pongo, Perdi and their owners Dominic and Danielle meet.

Puppetmaster Toby Olie has created two beautiful canines, voiced by puppeteers - who are also their back legs - and refer to their owners as pets. Their numerous puppies are a bit of a cheat, a hand puppet and twitching tail - although four are later embodied by cute child actors.

Based on a Zinnie Harris adaptation, Johnny McKnight's book updates the tale of kidnapped puppies from the '50s, to a world where Cruella de Vil is no longer a wealthy fur obsessed schoolfriend, but a socially grasping media influencer and culture warrior whose treatment of the Dalmatians goes viral.

Grafting on smartphones to appeal to kids feels lame and lazy, but luckily Kate Fleetwood's scene-stealing Cruella is the most vivid character here. Sporting outrageous wigs and sky high Louboutins, she's panto meets cartoon, maximising the only power number (Für Fur) complete with pelt-tastic walk down.

Aside from stray dog's lament Bury That Bone, and uplifting finale One Hundred and One, Douglas Hodge's brass and skiffle songs fail to take off, the plot is a dog's dinner, the script has too few jokes, and Sheader sometimes crowds the stage with movement to no great effect.

But if Eric Stroud and Karen Fishwick are sweetly bland as Dom and Dani, Jonny Weldon and George Bukhari as Cruella's witless unwilling stooges Jasper and Casper fare better.

And Sheader throws us some juicily inventive bones. Enacting the Twilight Barking with pink tapdancing poodle and boxing Boxers guiding the puppies home, is a highlight. Skipping ropes and lights create a perilous road crossing, and Cruella's careering pink car is operated by puppeteers, who also supply lolling tongue and boggling eyes when she drinks a potion. Kids will lap it up.

101 Dalmatians runs until August 28. openairtheatre.com/