Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: T S Eliot
Director: Trevor Nunn
Choreographer: Gillian Lynne
Reviewer: Holly Spanner
T S Eliot published Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats in 1939 and 38 years later Andrew Lloyd Webber began composing music for what he describes as being a childhood favourite. Four years later in 1981, Cats premiered at the New London Theatre where it ran for 21 years, becoming the longest-running musical in the West End at the time. The 2016 tour retains the original creative team, including Director Trevor Nunn, Choreographer Gillian Lynne and Designer John Napier, together with the celebrated score from Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Vibrant, fresh and electric, even after 35 years, the dance routines sizzle with energy; choreography very much at the centre of this frenzied tribe. It stands the test of time. And so it should. Cats has some of the most iconic dance routines in theatre history. Take the Jellicle Ball, for example, a ten-minute intense ensemble dance number near the end of Act One; utterly magical and entrancing to watch performed with incredible passion and stamina by the cast.
The production is staged in a junkyard, the set colourful and scattered with oversized everyday objects including newspapers (make sure to read the headlines if you are close enough), food cartons, domestic appliances, clothes and even a large old tyre that comes into its own for the closing numbers. Dynamic and adaptive, it transforms into thesteam engine and pirate ship with ease (and a little help from the cast). There is always something to watch, each of the cats going about their business (as cats do) while the main action is elsewhere.
Shiv Rabheru dons the sparkling tuxedo suit as Mr Mistoffelees, costume designer Napier suggesting at the classic costume for a magician. This is a role for only the strongest of dancers. It is technically demanding with difficult choreography, including 24 fouettés en tournant in the second act. A prodigy of the clowder, Mistoffelees is still learning to use his powers, his extended dance solo proving that Rabheru is, like his character, magical.
There are some outstanding vocals in the show. Helen Turner as the cautious and somewhat paranoid Demeter balances perfectly with Megan Armstrong’s flirtatious and confident Bombalurina. Particularly evident in Macavity, Demeter finds the villainous cat to be intimidating and fearsome, while Bombalurina is attracted to his suavity and mystery, making the most of her smoky, sensual and strong belting voice to express her thoughts.
Marianne Benedict is wonderfully cast as Grizabella. Bitter at years of being shunned by society, the character even has a hint of being a prostitute (Tottenham Court Road, referenced in the song Grizabella The Glamour Cat, was associated with prostitution during the author’s life). She was once beautiful and adored, now sad and lonely; her killer voice oozes with pain and suffering. Theatre veteran Kevin Jones is the wise and respected leader of the Jellicles as Old Deuteronomy. He embraces the authority and dignity the role commands, his strong opera voice reinforcing his position as a living legend among the tribe.
The White Cat, Victoria, is danced by Sophia Mcavoy, the principal ballerina in the production. Victoria is often described as ‘the spirit of Cats’, Mcavoy embracing her elegance, beauty and kindness, not only delightful in her range of facial expressions, but also in her movements. She is still discovering herself as a kitten, surprised and pleased at her new found talents as well as the other cats’ appreciation of her.
Following the recent success at the London Palladium, the Rum Tum Tugger (Marcquelle Ward) remains as the charismatic street cat, moving away from the former rock star incarnation. This has changed the dynamic of the tribe somewhat, as he appears younger and more playful, with less of a presence than the sexy, wild tom cat of old. Not that the kittens mind. To them he is still exciting, each charmed by his antics, as are the audience. It is fantastic to see a production as established as Cats is, evolving and updating to stay relevant and on trend.
Cats is for everyone. It is impossible not to like this production. From the costumes to the choreography, characters, music, lighting and set, it has it all. And with a finish time of 22:10, it is the purrfect treat for the whole family.
Runs until 2 July 2016 | Image: Alessandro Pinna