Based on the poems of T.S. Elliot, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s seminal, record breaking musical tells the tale of the gathering of a tribe of cats for their annual “Jellicle Ball”, where they come together to celebrate who they are, and to be chosen by Old Deuteronomy to be the Jellicle Choice to be reborn. Exploding onto the stage in an abundance of colour, choreography and energy and featuring the songs Memory and Magical Mister Mistoffelees, Cats tells of the joys of being a feline and of being an individual.Photo Credit – Alessandro Pinna
Cats production is impressive. There is no denying that the make-up and costumes are stunning, albeit the leotards are so tight it is not difficult to see which cats have been neutered. The set, based around a rubbish dump, is static and effective, as it spills out of the stage and into the auditorium, littering the edge of the proscenium arch and the aisles leading into the audience. The sound was crisp, clear and pitched at the perfect volume, with a good balance of orchestra and vocals, allowing for the actors clear diction to be heard with ease. The lighting was well thought out and the whole thing was professionally put together.
In terms of performances, they were broadly difficult to fault. Featuring a cast of around 30 very talented actors and dancers, there were some inspired pieces of choreography, both in terms of the feline movement employed by the actors and the show-stopping ensemble pieces which were brilliant at times. The show, despite being first performed in 1981, didn’t feel dated at all, and had an air of freshness about it – it has certainly stood the test of time better than some of Lloyd-Webber’s other musicals from that era.
However, as a show, Cats is a curious beast and even now, I am still not really sure what to make of it. Oddly, and despite its success, it was never a show which really appealed to me. Audiences have lapped up this show for the best part of 35 years, so I was keen to see what has carried this show for so long. There were a few issues with the uneven pacing of the piece throughout; although the second act fared much better than the first. Some of the lyrics and choreography were slightly repetitive and overused and the whole thing felt very surreal indeed. But once you had bought into the premise and suspended your disbelief, the show did hit some highs, and it became clear why Cats has been embraced by the theatre going public. On paper, the show really shouldn’t work; but in reality, it turned out to be nonsense, but really quite fun. Tap dancing cockroaches, cats dressed as dogs and acrobatics aplenty all fed into the slightly odd but absorbing spectacle.
Despite its surreal quality, Cats turned out to be far more enjoyable than I could have anticipated. It did feel, as I left the theatre, like someone had force fed me cheese and heavily sedated me for two and half hours; but ultimately – and surprisingly for me, it won me over and did leave me feline good.
Cats is currently at Sheffield Theatres (www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk) until 15th October 2016 before rounding off its national tour at Milton Keynes and Wimbledon, before heading to Hungary, Dubai and Germany. For details visit www.catsthemusical.com/tour/
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.