101 Dalmatians ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

101 Dalmatians stays at Birmingham Repertory Theatre until 13 January 2018 – book your tickets here: 101 Dalmatians Tickets

Star rating: *****

101 Dalmatians – no easy feat for a stage production, one might imagine, getting all those Dalmatians up on stage in one go with no unruly canine behaviour, etc. What’s the answer? Use puppets of course, reminiscent of War Horse and it worked fantastically well.

From the opening number which introduced a number of different breeds of dogs to the arrival of Pongo (Oliver Wellington) and Missis (Emma Thornett) who fall in love, as do their owners; Mr Dearly (Morgan Philpott) and Mrs Dearly (Nadi Kemp-Sayfi). Mr and Mrs Dearly are all you hope they will be; homely and forging their family with their two Dalmatians and the puppies due to arrive. Kudos also to Philpott and Kemp-Sayfi for their puppetry skills – when they respectively performed as Sheepdog and Patch I almost forgot that they were also Mr and Mrs Dearly. The scene is set so smoothly and seamlessly that you almost don’t notice that quite a hefty piece of the story has already been laid out. The introduction of Cruella De Vil (Gloria Onitiri) was all it should be, pure evil on stage in an almost caricature state and blood thirsty for her next fur. From her antics at the wheel of her inspired motorcar to interaction with Mrs Dearly – each move was measured, brilliantly timed and emulated the popular Disney version of the character. The Badduns (Luke Murphy and Lewis Griffin) made hapless sidekicks and gave superb visually physical performances.

From Cruella’s desperation for her Dalmatian coat to the kidnapping of the pups and subsequent rescue – it is a production de force with catchy, narrative musical numbers and a glorious set which lends itself to tricks. Miss this at your peril, Tessa Walker has directed one of the best festive shows I’ve seen so far this season.

 

 

The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

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The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe was my favourite book when I was growing up and an eager young reader. My own vision of what Narnia should look like has been a mixture of my own imagination and the 1988 BBC television series.

This production which has been dramatised by Adrian Mitchell and also has music by Shaun Davey, was a visual treat from start to finish. The set was a sight to behold, it unfolded in perfect synchronisation with the story. From the Professor’s house that Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are evacuated to, to the wardrobe and its forest of fur coats, to Narnia itself, with snow falling from the ‘sky’ and hide-away homes for its residents, Mr Tumnus and Mr and Mrs Beaver.

Michael Lanni as Peter, Leonie Eliott as Susan, James Thackeray as Edmund and ‘Over the Rainbow’ finalist Emilie Fleming as Lucy, were perfectly cast as the four Pevensie children. They portrayed over-excitable, playful youths exceedingly well, with Thackeray in particular demonstrating sullenness of young Edmund’s character by skilled use of body language.

When Lucy first enters the wardrobe and walks through to discover Narnia, I felt as in awe as she did! Mr Tumnus (Joe Servi) was just as I imagined when I first read the book all those years ago and when Edmund manages to follow Lucy when she takes her second trip (having been sceptical before) his encounter with the White Witch is also the stuff of my own imagination. Allison McKenzie gives a hauntingly real performance as the White Witch, she switches from sickly sweet to evil and stunning make-up adds to the effect. Rumblebuffin (the White Witch’s henchman) is played by a puppet (there are many puppets used throughout the production and they add an extra dimension to an already flawless show), Danielle Bird who ‘plays’ him has the funniest accent which suits the character to a tee and her quick, sharp delivery is an asset, indeed. Ms Bird, it seems, is multi-talented as she also dons stilts later on to play an equally hilarious giant!

Notable in this production is the movement of the ensemble which is well choreographed and does not distract from the centre of the action. The songs are delightful and paint their own picture of the tale, ‘Turkish Delight’ was my personal favourite. Edmund’s passion for the sticky, sweet treat contributes to his downfall, it makes sense that it should be one of the musical numbers.

When all four children finally enter Narnia together and meet Mr and Mrs Beaver, not only is their house a wonder, but their performance is equally wondrous. Thomas Aldridge (Mr Beaver) and Sophia Nomvete (Mrs Beaver) are a superb comedy pairing and their musical number is also a highlight. Of course, while three of the children are siding with the beavers so that they can meet Aslan the Lion and put a stop to the permanent winter spell which has been cast by the White Witch, Edmund has returned to the enemy’s house for more Turkish Delight.

Aslan was quite splendid, cleverly worked as a puppet in a similar way to the star of War Horse. As an ensemble, puppeteers and actors alike, are a strong team and go a long way towards making this show a must-see this Christmas.

The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe will be at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre until 16th January 2016. Details can be found here: http://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/

 

 

 

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