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Review: 101 Dalmatians

This production at the Belgrade Theatre is certainly more scary and realistic than any other versions of the dogs' tale.

The auditorium at the Belgrade Theatre has been transformed to house this innovative production of the classic book by Dodie Smith. 

The interior design has echoes of 'Starlight Express', with effectively-interlaced scaffolding, adjustable ramps and a fantastic bridge spanning the audience. At the outset, we are given a tongue-in-cheek assurance that no animals are harmed during the performance; for indeed, all non-humans are played by actors, with considerable realism.

The Dalmatian puppies are particularly convincing, due to the high-spirited, canine abandon brought to the roles by a large cast of young actors. The effect is enhanced by the dog-like movements which are brought about by the clever use of crutches in the costumes.

The parents, Pongo (James Talbot) and Missus (Isabel Ford) find no difficulty in communicating their intentions through a judicious mix of woofs and broken English. Carran Waterfield plays a camp Cruella, more akin to Norma Desmond in 'Sunset Boulevard' than to the character we know from Disney and the 1996 film. 

Other human characters play low-key roles, allowing themselves to be outshone by the animals; including Cat & Cat (Daniela Essart) and Sheep Dog (Soren Nielson).

Overall, the production is a fascinating melange of physical theatre and black-and-white film. The skill with which the two media are combined can be judged from the tension as the excited audience are swept along with the escaping Dalmatians.

There is involvement and much fun for the audience as the chases surge through them; and you might find an umbrella useful in the second half! It certainly knocks the spots off the bland versions of the past. A thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Until 6 May 2000. Running time: 2 hours.

Performance times:
Tue Sat 7pm
Tues, Wed & Sat 2pm

Ticket Prices: 5 to 10


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CWN / Arts & Entertainment / Belgrade Theatre / 19 Sep 99

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