Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Based on ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ by T.S. Elliot
Original Director: Trevor Nunn
Tour Direction: Chrissie Cartwright
Reviewer: John Roberts
CATS is one of the biggest hits in musical theatre but it very never nearly got off the ground due to not being able to raise the capital needed for the show to go ahead, however miracles do happen and the show went on to break box office records in the UK and across the water on Broadway.
Based on the poems of T.S. Elliot, CATS is a curious beast, with very little in terms of a progressive narrative, the production relies heavily on dance and song to hold its audiences attention and it manages its aims quite successfully – the thin storyline is based around a group of cats meeting together at the Jellicle Ball and then deciding who to chose to give them an extra life or a “second chance”.
John Napier’s stunning junkyard set which trips out into the auditorium is beautifully detailed, cereal boxes and shoes all created to size adds a brilliant touch and the final elevation is one of the best seen on the touring circuit. Howard Eaton’s lighting design evokes the midnight hour perfectly, shadows are ever present and the delight of the cats meeting is matched wonderfully through the unique and quirky use of “circus style” light bulbs around the set.
Strong performances are given throughout from the cast producing a tight feline clowder, however Ross Finnie’s cheeky Skimbleshanks stands out strong, while Oliver Saville’s Rum Tum Tugger oozes charisma from the moment he struts onto the stage. A trio of fantastic performances come courtesy of Paul F Monaghan’s renditions of Bustopher Jones/Asparagus and Growl Tiger, and in one of the strongest renditions of the song I have ever heard Sophia Ragavelas stuns the crowd into silence with her powerful and emotional ‘Memory’.
The real star of the show however is Gillian Lynne’s danced through choreography, always slick, stylised and considered, the depth of movement realised with crystal clear conviction.
Under the musical direction of Adrian Kirk the CATS orchestra of only eight sounded rich and full (one suspects that the odd click track was added in order to fill out the orchestrations) and faultless in execution including a jolly ‘Jellicle Ball’.
Overall CATS is a warm and enjoyable show but like Old Dueteronomy the show feels a little old and warn out and probably in need of a refresh seen most recently in productions such as Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera.