Tag Archives: Jonny Weldon

“101 Dalmatians” at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

While adults like lots of shows that are aimed at kids, giving children’s theatre a broad appeal isn’t a necessary condition for praise. This new musical from Douglas Hodge, based on Dodie Smith’s book, deserves plenty of stars but is aimed so firmly at youngsters it doesn’t offer much to anyone over 12.

Even the average teenager could get restless with the frantic energy in Timothy Sheader’s production. With Toby Olié’s strong puppetry and Colin Richmond’s shouty set, the feeling of a cartoon or Saturday morning TV show fills the stage. If you’re as old as I am, you might end up with a headache.

Which is not to say that the show shouldn’t earn your respect.

There are clever lyrics and jaunty, if not particularly memorable, songs. A stronger second half includes good numbers for children in the cast. It just isn’t a soundtrack you would want to listen to at home. Johnny McKnight’s book (from a stage adaptation by Zinnie Harris) is a touch too crammed and could move quicker – but it is fun.

There’s a great villain too, of course, in Cruella De Vil. Updating the furrier’s best friend into a social media influencer is a great idea. Willing to risk “eternal Dalmatian” in hell to get a coat of puppies is a pun that was the highlight of the night for me. Kate Fleetwood takes the role (and a pair of very high-heeled boots) in her stride and gives a performance to be proud of.

In short, there’s little to fault in the production. Cruella’s accomplices make a pair of nicely old-fashioned crooks for George Bukhari and Jonny Weldon. And there are appealing performances from the dog’s “pets”, i.e., their owners, played by Eric Stroud and Karen Fishwick. Singing for the dogs and being literally a part of the puppet means that Danny Collins and Emma Lucia get even more points. The performances are bright and bouncy; even addressing the audience is done with an eye on their age.

There is a reservation it seems fair to raise – the venue itself. The Open Air Theatre has a tradition of work for children but this gorgeous location doesn’t seem particularly well used. Howard Hudson’s lighting design further on in the show gives an idea of what we are missing. And it is late at this time of the year. With a 7:45 start time for a relatively long show, most of the target audience are well past their bedtime by the time they get home.

Until 28 August 2022


“Happy to Help” at the Park Theatre

This new comedy by Michael Ross is as bright and sparkling as anything on the market. The subject – target, rather – is the big business of supermarkets, the play as thought provoking as it is funny.
A mega store built on former farmland is unwitting host to the UK boss of ‘Frisca’ supermarkets, with Tony masquerading as a shelf stacker, having been put “back in the trenches” by the chain’s American owner. The Toffy Brit meets his match in store manager Vicky, and the laughs come quicker than sales at Christmas time.

Vicky is a gem of a role for the brilliant Katherine Kotz. The Cruella de Vil of Costcutters, the Lady Macbeth of Morrisons, Kotz lands every line perfectly. Director Roxy Cook does well to lavish time here. It’s possible other scenes could have been slowed down, but the comedy skills of all are impressive. With a plot twist that reveals how carefully constructed Kotz’s character is, this is one of the finest performances, and roles, I’ve seen in a long time.

 Jonny Weldon, Rachel Marwood and Charles Armstrong
Jonny Weldon, Rachel Marwood and Charles Armstrong

Superbly supported by Charles Armstrong as the disarmingly affable Tony, there are further fine performances from Ben Mann and Jonny Weldon as two youngsters struggling to find their place in the (supermarket) world. Dreams are dashed and characters corrupted among the dairy aisles. Completing the cast are the excellent David Bauckham, as the big boss jetting in from the States at the first suspicion of Union activity, and Rachel Marwood, who’s in charge of Tony’s induction both when watching a corporate video and then in the pub – a scene that balances tension and laughs to great effect.

The mix of everyday lives and crap jobs, superbly observed, is deftly combined with big themes of corporate and personal responsibility. Ross’s social conscience is razor sharp, the delivery of facts, figures and argument, impeccable and inventive. But it’s Ross’s skill as a satirist, the ability to deal so well with exaggeration, that should make the show a hit: rules and situations seem ridiculous until you realise they already exist or are close to happening.

The comedy here is bold, adventurous and downright clever. As Orwellian doublethink is applied to the corporate world, the results are seriously funny.

Until 9 July 2016


Photos by David Monteith-Hodge