Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Director/Choreographer: Chrissie Cartwright
Reviewer: Alice Fowler
The moon hangs over a junkyard set and luminous green eyes glint from all sides. We can only be at Cats: back and brought to exuberant new life by the Guildford School of Acting.
This is a high calibre production, performed by graduating musical theatre students who would give any professional cast a run for their money. So many of these songs and characters are familiar – Rum Tum Tugger, Grizabella, Skimbleshanks et al – that any Cats production can be overshadowed by what has gone before. The GSA, however, with faultless set piece dances and a fine live band, makes the show their own.
Mary-Jean Caldwell shines as Grizabella, the former glamour cat, tottering about the stage like a feline version of Ab Fab’s Patsy. This is a cat who has clearly lived all her nine lives and several more.
Dancing is excellent throughout, notably from Luke Fraser Yates as Mr. Mistoffelees and Jade Ma as the beautiful white cat, Victoria. The long-limbed Fraser Yates, with his balletic leaps, achieves an astonishing cat-like grace. Both these young actors are surely stars in the making.
Based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the Cats storyline is slight, as the Jellicle cats assemble for a night of midsummer madness, to dance and caterwaul and decide which cat will ascend to the Heaviside layer to be reborn. Delight comes, of course, from the cats themselves: old, young, menacing and meek, cats of every creed and colour. Director and choreographer Chrissie Cartwright, who stages Cats productions across the world, extracts the best from this young cast. We can all sing along with Memory, the tear-jerking anthem made famous by Elaine Paige. It is no small feat that Mary-Jean Caldwell as Grizabella makes the song convincingly her own.
Costumes are relatively restrained – no furry bodysuits here – but effective, with hair gathered into simple ‘ears’ or backcombed into manes. Old Deuteronomy (Dom Curtis), the cats’ leader, appears resplendent in a checked flannel dressing gown: a surprisingly successful guise for an old, wise cat.
It is almost 40 years since Cats premiered 1981, going on to play for 21 record-breaking years in London and in productions across the world. To these young musical students all that must seem like ancient history. It is to GSA’s credit that it has taken the Cats ‘brand’ and created something fresh.
The only niggles on opening night were some slight sound issues which hopefully will be resolved for the rest of the run. Tickets are already sold out but returns may be available – catch it if you can.
Runs until 17 March 2018 | Image: Robert Workman