Writer: Dr Seuss adapted by Katie Mitchell
Director: Lillie Collier
Reviewer: Pete Benson
The Cat in the Hat is a live version of the book of the same name. Theodor Geisel, better known under the pen name Dr. Seuss, wrote the book in 1957 in response to a perceived ineffectiveness of the then crop of available learning to read books. In one account of how he arrived at his unique style Geisel suggested that a frustration with the list of words he was permitted to use in an educational book for young children made him decide to use the first two words he came across that rhymed, thus Cat in the Hat.
This show is a top quality production aimed at young children. David Shields’ art direction is absolutely brilliant. It is as if the pages of a Dr Seuss book have come to life in front of our eyes. The set and props are all just like Zeuss’ art work. Even Barbara Williams’ costumes seem to have an ink pen quality about them.
The show starts with Sally and her brother in the house, looking out of the window, bored. We meet their pet fish who lives in a large glass bowl and who is essentially the voice of the children’s absent mother. The fish is brilliantly portrayed by puppeteer Hannah Vesty who is also semi-costumed as a fish herself lending physical visual support to the fish’s character. Again a master stroke of design.
The appearance of the eponymous Cat in the Hat is what we are all waiting for. Roger Dipper as the Cat teases us brilliantly with his slow reveal right down to his final lift of the head. The entrance is slightly undercut as we have already met two ersatz cats in hats who have thus far assisted proceedings as crazy performing stage hands. Dipper brings a cheeky energy and light footed physicality to the Cat as he plays games and tricks using mime techniques coupled with accurately timed sound effects. There are some well choreographed slow motion sequences at moments of big physical disaster and a fabulous moment where a runaway bicycle wheel rolls across the stage which Grace Miller’s Sally nimbly steps over.
The energy of the show is always strong but it builds to a cacophonous riot of destruction towards the end of the 45 minutes with props and balls of all sizes whizzing across the stage and through the audience. This is spectacularly enhanced by the soundscape which somehow captures perfectly the strangeness of the book’s style.
In his life time Theodor Geisel was reluctant to let his characters be used outside of his books though as he got older he softened this stance. I feel sure Geisel would have been very proud of this reworking of his book. This show is true to the source material with it repetitive and often rhyming dialogue. It feels fresh and lovingly crafted which puts it head and shoulders above many productions in this genre. I urge you to take your children to see it.
Photo: Garry Lake | Reviewed on 31st January and on tour