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101 Dalmatians (Tobacco Factory Theatres)

101 Dalmatians provides an evening of pure pleasure and deserves a much wider audience.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Carla Mendonça (Cruella De Vil) in 101 Dalmations.
© Farrow Creatives

Sally Cookson's latest show for Travelling Light and Tobacco Factory Theatres has all the virtues one has come to expect from her work: it is physical, fast-paced and very funny and touches the heart. With dramaturg Adam Peck and her cast of five actors and three musicians she has devised a version of Dodie Smith's story that is theatrically inventive and trusts the audience's imagination to do some of the work.

Cookson gets vivid performances from her cast of local favourites, all of them as convincing in the role of dogs as they are as humans. Tristan Sturrock catches perfectly the eccentric donnishness of Mr. Dearly and the youthful zest and quiet heroism of Pongo. Lucy Tuck is equally strong as the boffinish Mrs. Dearly and no less heroic as Perdita. Carla Mendonça is an eminently hissable Cruella De Vil and Saikat Ahamad offers a charming nanny-butler and a memorably dim Saul Baddun. Felix Hayes is brilliant as a very sinister Mr De Vil, an incompetent Jasper Baddun, not convinced he's got what it takes to do in a large number of dogs, and a herd of kindly cows. The changes from canine to human are cleverly done, with the mere addition or subtraction of a hat or a cardigan; body language and gesture do the rest. Director and cast know the audience needs no more. The full complement of 101 Dalmatians contains multiple performers but they come in a variety of other guises too; over a hundred knitters have been involved in preparing the show.

This is an evening as much for parents and grandparents as for children. As the exhausted Pongo and Perdita try to deal with their newborns' various needs and put them to bed, there was delighted recognition from the older members of the audience. Benji Bower and his band in natty sixties suits, bow-ties and specs provide an irresistibly funky backdrop to memorable scenes of twilight barking, walks in Regent's Park and a gripping chase across the snow.

This is an evening of pure pleasure, superbly conceived and directed, performed with enormous energy, wit and charm by a peerless cast. It will be loved by the Bristol public and, like Cookson's equally fine Cinderella: A Fairy Tale, deserves a much wider audience.