Review: 101 Dalmatians, Tobacco Factory

If you’re not feeling quite Christmassy enough yet, get yourself – and any small people in your life – down to the Tobacco Factory. With a jolly evil baddie, incompetent side-kicks, true love, triumph over the odds, poo jokes, and lots and lots puppies, it’s got everything a family show could possibly need.

Tristram Sturrock does sterling work, as ever, as Mr. Dearly and his dog, Pongo, ably matched by Lucy Tuck as both Mrs. Dearly and Perdita. Sturrock is an absolute stalwart of the Bristol theatre scene, and paired with Director Sally Cookson once again he is brilliant in both dog and human form.

Costumes (Katie Sykes) are simple – lots of black and white polka dots, lots of hats – but effective, and the cast of five work incredibly hard to portray goodies, baddies, dogs, cows and everyone else who makes up this adventure. Saikat Ahmed is great as the runt of the litter, a puppy-napper and as Mr and Mrs Dearly’s Nanny-Butler. Carla Mendonça is great fun as a leather-clad Cuella De Ville, hankering after a new, spotty fur coat.

Felix Hayes rounds out the cast, as Cruella’s creepy furrier husband, as one half of the Baddun Brothers (along with Ahmed) and as any number of different dogs. The cast bounce off each other with so much energy it’s almost impossible to imagine that they’ve already performed a matinee earlier in the day.

The plot is simple. In short, Cruella De Ville steals Pongo and Perdita’s puppies with the aim of making them into a fur coat – along with 84 other unfortunate pups. Pongo and Perdita set out to rescue them, with the help of other dogs across London and Suffolk. It’s delightfully nasty stuff, especially Cruella’s extended song – “bleed them” – sung to an audience of charming, community-knitted puppies. The dogs mutter “she smells of death”, and it’s easy to believe.

All the best children’s stories are dark, though, and Cookson and Co embrace the nastiness in this show. Cookson finds just the right balance – it’s scary in parts but also warm and humorous. It’s got bite, but also bucketloads of wit and charm – enough to keep the whole family on side.

It’s a straightforward enough story, but enchantingly told. The Tobacco Factory’s bare stage encourages a certain kind of magic – this is storytelling at its very best. Our intrepid heroes trek from Regent’s Park to aptly named Hell Hall in Suffolk, before catching the train home via King’s Cross with rather more puppies than they anticipated.

By the end of the show, all five cast members, plus the three excellent performers in the band (Benji Bower, Will Bower and Ian Ross), are literally covered in Dalmatian puppies. It’s hugely entertaining stuff, with plenty of stuff to keep kids amused, plus lots of nods to the grown-ups. It rollicks along through London and beyond, never letting the pace drop. An excellent Christmas show, and another hit for the Tobacco Factory.

101 Dalmatians is at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol until 11 January. For more information and tickets, visit the Tobacco Factory’s website.

Photo (c) Farrows Creative.