If you haven’t already noticed, by the hordes of ice cream lapping children and flustered parents in the streets, the school summer holidays are in full swing. What better way to entertain the bored under tens than to drag them off their 18 rated playstation games and take them to experience the sights and sounds of the theatre and the promise of an interval ice cream. Fortunately for parents running out of ideas for activities this is exactly what the Royal Centre have done, with the Royal Company, the Royal Centre’s community theatre initiative, putting on an adaptation of the classic story of dog napping.
Pongo and Mrs Pongo are two pedigree Dalmatians living in palatial comfort on the edge of Regent’s Park in London with their dipsy owners whom they view affectionately view as pets. The arrival of fifteen lively Dalmatian puppies brings even more fun and happiness into their comfortable domestic world. Their family joy is short lived however when to their horror the puppies are dog napped by the infamous Cruella de Vil, a pampered heiress intent upon creating for herself an exclusive Dalmatian fur coat. Enlisting support from other dogs via the Twilight Barking, Pongo and Missis set off on a thrilling quest to rescue their pups.
This is essentially an amateur show with a professional twist, they haven’t got a huge budget to work with but what they do have is enthusiasm and Toyah Wilcox in a black and white wig, Toyah is a feisty actress, always one for the spotlight, we generally know her for her 80s pop career, for which she’s having a nostalgic comeback at present, but she also boasts a varied acting career on TV and stage including the lead of Calamity Jane in the west end. Toyah does a respectable turn as Cruella de Ville, the domineering fur obsessed heiress, capturing some of the poised cool of the original character with the crazed mannerisms of the disney villain. Interestingly this adaptation, which is based on the book, features characters missed out from the Disney feature including Cruella’s husband and pet Cat.
What the show lacks is panto style interaction, it isn’t a panto of course, but keeping small children with very limited attention spans in a warm room can be a challenge, there was a certain amount of booing and hissing going on but it wasn’t really part of the show and there were loads of missed opportunities for audience fun. The doggy element makes up for it however with plenty of canine capers, the cast sniffing each others bottoms and other delights for the younger viewer. The performances of Pongo and his wife Missis played by Matt Grainger and Emma Carlton, were well realised, they are well down with the Dalmatian mannerisms. The legions of puppies played by small children in costume were entertaining, the chaotic motion of them all on stage at once was good, although I sympathise for whoever has to marshall them behind the scenes
This show is hard work to sit through as an adult, but as a theatre experience for a child it’s quite fun. I would have liked it to be more panto style than play as the stage format wasn’t as interesting for the children as it might have been. Plus if more money was thrown at it, more ingenious sound and lighting and cooler costumes would really add to the seven year old immersion therapy, but that’s not really the point of community theatre is it, for people who may not have been on the stage before they did pretty well.
Final word is from the six year old who was sat next to us, she has a message to theatre going Mum’s and Dad’s across Notts; could you please bring a big cushion as its hard to see. Thankyou.
The Hundred and One Dalmations plays at the Theatre Royal until Saturday 29th July.