Dalmatians Pongo and Missis (and their human pets, Mr and Mrs Dearly) are eagerly expecting their first litter of puppies and are as excited as any new parents-to-be could be. But awaiting their puppies’ arrival with almost as much anticipation is the avaricious Cruella De Vil, obsessive wife of a rich, busy furrier, who has eyes on their beautifully spotted skins as fashion couture….
Helen Young is engaging as Pongo, confident in her asides and monologues to the audience and making an enchanting couple with Lauren Phillips as Missis. Tilly Emm is also very charming as the foster mother to their fifteen new-born puppies. All three do well to portray the mannerisms and vocalisms of their pooch characters.
Di Buck looks the epitome of the villainess of the piece, bringing a maniacal and somewhat psychotic edge to the role. She elicits boos and hisses from the audience (most loudly from the very youngest members!) and holds herself physically with perfect poise and gestures for the character, never wavering. Rupert Bogart is charismatic and entertaining as her henchman, Jasper, ably supported by Mike Watson as his brother, Saul. Together they make an ideal comic partnership for this kind of play. Cameo roles from Richard Barnett (superb as Sir Charles), Caleb Brading-Ingram (Colonel Sheepdog) and Richard Sansom (Billie Driver) help to lift the energy and pace as the play progresses.
Edwin Beecroft’s country and London scenery is beautifully painted and the costumes are essentially ideal for the 1950s era and characters, although more attention to detail (tail height, position and presence) and smoother scene changes would enhance this.
The biggest challenge I have with this production is in the play and script itself, which were previously unknown to me. Having loved and read the book umpteen times as a child, I am familiar with the non-Disney version of the tale and the underlying darker tones of the original novel. A non-musical play, somewhere between a pantomime (with asides and reciprocated interaction with the audience, but lacking the energised musical numbers) and a quirky comedy, was rather unsettling and not helped by a script, direction and some production aspects that seemed to be just as confused. The first-night audience seemed to be expecting more of a pantomime for LDMS’s winter show, as they did their best to boo the villains and cheer for the canine heroes. One misses the musical numbers within the play that would be found in a pantomime – and which the cast prove during the curtain call that they are more than capable of providing. Quick research of the script indicates that the target audience for this play is six to ten years, but opportunities to really involve and engage a wider family audience are not fully embraced, which would make a huge difference to the overall effect.
However, the cast do give of their best and there is still much to enjoy; any opening night glitches should smooth out during the run and the cast deserves a larger audience.
Future performances: 28 January at 6.00, 29 January at 2.30, 3 February at 7.30, 4 February at 2.30.