Desperate to get his puppies back this Christmas will be lovable dog Pongo in Chichester Festival Youth Theatre’s staging of Dodie Smith’s The Hundred And One Dalmatians.
Playing Pongo will be 16-year-old Fred Davis, of Storrington, as they take to the main-house stage from December 20-January 3.
Pongo and Missis Pongo, an adorable couple of canines, are fortunate enough to own Mr and Mrs Dearly, an adorable couple of humans.
The excitement in the household can hardly be contained when Pongo and Missis become the proud parents of 15 adorable Dalmatian puppies. Then along comes Cruella De Vil, the nastiest, cruellest villainess...
“Pongo is a very fatherly character,” Fred says. “He is quite immature up to the point where his puppies are stolen and then he matures quite a lot. He likes to have fun, but he is sensible when it is needed. He goes into over-drive planning mode to try to get his puppies back when they are taken. He is good in a crisis. He keeps his cool when others around him are not necessarily keeping their cool. He’s a very fun character to play!
“I wasn’t sure about how playing a dog would feel, but we have got two German shepherds at home, and I have based the general movement on them.
“I have also got a video of Dalmatians which I have slowed down so I can see how they move. It’s really studying the tempo of their walk and their run. They are really majestic creatues. They very much keep their head up and their chest out. They are quite elongated. When they are walking, they don’t walk very fast. When they walk, it is quite slow. They have got quite a slow tempo, but when they run, they take huge bounds like you would expect a Great Dane to do.
“Actually, Dalmatians are the most vicious type of dog apparently, though it all depends on the background. You could have a Rottweiler that is as sweet as anything and a Chihuahua that is really nasty, but apparently, Dalmatians are quite vicious!”
Taking on that dog personality has proved a huge challenge – not least for the fact it is difficult to differentiate (when you are starting as a human!) between a dog and a monkey.
“We are really close to being monkeys genetically, so us on all fours just looks like a monkey! And when we run, what feels to us like it might be like a dog, really looks like a monkey. It hasn’t been easy.”
Fred is home-schooled and is a big fan of home-schooling: “Home-schooling is very individual. It gives you a really good chance to really concentrate on your subjects. At school, the teacher will do the subjects because they have to teach them, but with home-schooling, the teacher will really make sure you understand it.”
“I did go into school for a few years, but I got really badly bullied. I got taken out at about six, and I haven’t gone back.”
Fred’s favourite subjects are maths and physics, and his dream would be a degree in engineering at Cambridge, partly because Cambridge might also bring an opportunity to become involved with the Footlights.
Fred is realistic enough to know a showbiz career isn’t particularly likely to be reliable and that the engineering might well be his passport.
“But I would love to think that the acting and the performing might always be there.”