Saving the Puppies!

I can smell a puppy!


Kate Fleetwood as Cruella de Vil and Pongo and Perdi pupeteered by Danny Collins and Ben Thompson and Yana Penrose and Emma Lucia (Photo: Mark Senior)

The puppets of the adult dogs Perdi and Pongo are wonderful.  Designed and directed by Toby Olié who was one of the puppeteers behind the ground breaking elegant creatures (I refuse to call them puppets) of the show that raised the form to the state of the art, War Horse.  These doggies have an unobtrusive human controlling their front legs and their hind legs and tails are another actor in costume spots who voices them.  It works well as so much design thought has gone into their heads and necks as well as doggy behaviour like sniffing each other’s bottoms, cocking a leg and scratching with a hind leg.

There are two more stars in the Open Air’s production.  The first and most feared is Kate Fleetwood as Cruella de Vil with her gorgeous blackboard scraping Essex accent, clothes by Katrina Lindsay and her newly assumed profession of  social media “influencer”. Why she would want a dog hair coat rather than cat fur of the Bengal variety is a mystery to me.  Perhaps when Dodie Smith wrote A Hundred and One Dalmatians in 1956, the Bengal cat had not been thought of.   Dodie Smith’s anti-fur views were well ahead of her time.

Perdi and Pongo pupeteered by Yana Penrose, Emma Lucia, Ben Thompson, Danny Collins (Photo: Mark Senior)

To make her even more obnoxious, Cruella has views on racial purity for dogs, no Cockerpoos in her desired wardrobe and she puffs non stop at one of those scented vaping alternatives to cigarettes often eclipsing her head in smoke.  She wears the monochrome version of the union flag as a part of her black and white style neo Fascism.  When she posts a video of her beating a dog, thousands of dog haters follow her. 

The other star is Colin Richmond’s superlative set with 101 Dalmations in large font and the zero formed by a huge dog collar on a red lead.  It is impressive in daylight and even more so by night.  Set in the trees at the Open Air, it is always a magical place on a dry and balmy summer’s evening.

Eric Stroud as Dominic and Karen Fishwick as Danielle (Photo: Mark Senior)

Musically the First Act was a bit of a disappointment for me with the group songs being a bit shouty, overly loud and the lyrics hard to hear.  The music and lyrics are by actor and director Douglas Hodge but I am surprised at the brilliant director Timothy Sheader allowing this act’s music to go ahead as is. 

Cruella’s songs are of course the exception to this with Kate Fleetwood’s excellent diction.  She seduces Danielle (Karen Fishwick) and Dominic (Eric Stroud)’s  dogs with treats and when she realises Perdi is expecting, she makes a bid for the puppies.  You will be wondering how the puppeteers are going to stage 99 Dalmatian puppies.  Fifteen babies are born to Perdi and Pongo; we see their heads and later actors wear a spotted sleeve with a tail on their elbow to create these miniature dogs.

Cruella’s uncharacteristically soft ballad turns into a loud celebration (from her point of view not the puppies’) of fur, spotted fur in “Für Fur”.  She finds nephews Casper (Jonny Weldon) and Jasper (George Bukhari) to help her on her dastardly couturier mission. 

Eric Stroud as Dominic and Company (Photo: Mark Senior)

Act Two improved no end for me with a welcome play on my emotions.  As Perdi and Pongo realise their puppies have been stolen, their heartfelt cries of “Where Are They?” and “Where Have Our Babies Gone?” are distressing.  

I doubt it was the case in 1956 but nowadays, pedigree dogs are stolen all the time and their identity chips surgically removed.  Maybe Doggy DNA can help?  We hear of dogs slipping their leads on walks and disappearing, or puppies stolen in burglaries.

The stolen Dalmatian puppies are locked in a cage protected by electronic locks.  There are actor children playing the puppies and I loved their number WWDD, or What Would Daddy Do?  We had met Captain Head (wonderfully sung by Stuart Angell) the St Bernard in the park and been introduced to the Twilight Barking message system.  There are Poodles, Scottish Terriers, Dobermans, Boxers and German Shepherds joining in the hunt for the puppies.

Cruella sings about her allergy to cats, “I’m allergic, When I get itchy, I get twitchy, I get tetchy.”  But the cats come to the rescue! Cruella is tricked into the cage and electrocuted and in a cartoon like design coup, her eyes stand out on red stalks and electric current flashes surround her head and she vomits! 

By the first few minutes of the Second Act, I was involved with the Dalmatians’ plight and feeling I could recommend this show.  The audience joined in, many of them wearing empathetic spotty frocks or black and white shirts but no leopard prints thank goodness which would have been bad taste. 

There is a wonderful finale with the advent of the hundred and first dalmation, the last puppy to be found, a pretty, little spotty puppy with a waggy tail, a real puppy we all want to take home with us. 

Kate Fleetwood as Cruella de Vil on Colin Richmond's set and Katrina Lindsay's costumes (Photo: Mark Senior)

Musical Numbers

Act One

Go Wild/Now Then

Wrong Tree

It’s My Treat

Bury That Bone

Bite It Back

Turn Round Three Times


Heads Or Tails

The English Pub

Two Bad Criminals

Litterbugs (Reprise)

For Fur 


Act Two




What  The Bleep

Delay Her

I Can Smell Puppy

All Of Our Kisses

Turn Around Three Times (Reprise)

Cruella’s Demise

Bury That Bone/Litterbugs  (Reprise)

One Hundred And One


Production Notes

101 Dalmatians

Music and Lyrics by Douglas Hodge

Book by Johnny McKnight

Stage Adaptation by Zinnie Harris

Directed by Timothy Sheader



Kate Fleetwood

Danny Collins

Emma Lucia

George Bukhari

Jonny Weldon

Karen Fishwick

Simon Oskarsson

Sonya Cullingford

Stuart Angell

Taofique Folarin

Tash Holway

Tom Peters

Yana Penrose

Eric Stroud

Kody Mortimer

Joseph Fletcher

Jade Davies

Grace Wylde

Jamil Abbasi

Young Company: 

Rebecca Bennett

Harmony Cover-Allicock

Charlie Man-Evans

Darcy Fryer-Bovill

Rhiya Rasalingam

Paul Sarte

Oscar Cox

Charlie McGonagle

Albie Salter

George Clarke

Hadlee Snow

Howard Webb




Director: Timothy Sheader

Set Designer: Colin Richmond

Puppetry Designer and Director: Toby Olié

Choreographer: Liam Steel

Costume Designer: Katrina Lindsay

Musical Supervisor and Orchestrator: Sarah Travis

Lighting Designer:  Howard Hudson

Sound Designer: Nick Lidster for Autograph

Sound Designer (Content): Ella Wahlström

Video and Projection: Douglas O’Connell

Musical Director: Tarek Merchant


Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval

Booking until 28th August 2022



Open Air Theatre

Regent’s Park

Inner Circle

London NW1 4NU

Phone: 0333 400 3562


Tube: Baker Street

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Open Air

on 22nd July 2022

The Company (Photo: Mark Senior)