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The Hundred and One Dalmatians review at Birmingham Repertory Theatre – ‘funny, warm and inventive’

The cast of 101 Dalmatians. Photo: Graeme Braidwood The cast of 101 Dalmatians. Photo: Graeme Braidwood

With Goats playing at the Royal Court, part of me optimistically hoped to see 101 real dogs in the Birmingham Rep’s adaptation of Dodie Smith’s famous novel. The 20-odd puppets that populate the stage instead are no less charming. From the graceful Dalmatians to a stately Great Dane and a lolloping, shaggy sheepdog, Jimmy Grime’s puppet designs are just one of the great pleasures of the show.

Its human parts could easily pale in comparison, but a spritely ensemble cast are infinitely watchable. It’s Gloria Onitiri, though, as the permanently hypothermic, dog-snatching villain, Cruella De Vil, who commands our attention. She’s exquisitely (but not wholly) dislikable as she struts, slinks and languishes, and she belts the musical numbers with fearsome skill. The perennial problem with baddies is true here – she’s a vastly more interesting presence than the beige, ‘goody-two-shoes’ protagonists, at once deplorable and sympathetic.

Tessa Walker’s production isn’t perfect – it has a tendency to lull in a few awkwardly placed pauses, and a slightly underpowered, thinly-drawn score by James Frewer doesn’t help to generate momentum. But for the most part it succeeds as lucid storytelling, and as a funny, warm, and inventive family show.

The Hundred and One Dalmatians: Birmingham Rep’s dazzling feat of canine puppetry

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A hugely likeable family show with a cast of delightful dog puppets