(reviewed at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 18 July)
Those felines versified by TS Eliot and magicked into stage life by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Trevor Nunn, Gillian Lynne, John Napier and Howard Eaton have migrated on a UK tour after a new London residency. This fresh production builds on the original one 35 years ago in many ways while taking a subtly different approach.
Reviewing that original production I suggested that potential theatre-goers should make their canaries sing for their supper and put the dog on own-brand food for as long as it would take to acquire the money for a ticket. Those cage birds and canines need to be on similar rations in 2016 – it’s a marvellous total theatre experience.
Lloyd Webber’s score, so eclectic in the nuances of composition and orchestration with the words for both concerted and solo numbers given proper precedence, is conducted by Tim Davies. We’ve become accustomed to through-composed scores in musicals, but the through-choreographed show puts a special burden on its performers, most of whom sing while bending, stretching, whirling and lifting in Lynne’s dance patterns.
Cats insinuate themselves in the aisles as well as on the stage; one little girl at the performance which I attended decided that these alley-cats were far removed from the docile moggie she cuddled at home. Of the large and incredibly hard-working and committed cast, Marianne Benedict’s Grizabella and Kevin Stephen-Jones’ Old Deuteronomy stand out for sheer vocal power, Sophia McAvoy’s balletic white cat, Matt Krzan’s Munkustrap, Marcquelle Ward’s Rum Tum Tugger, Shiv Rabheru’s Quaxo and Mistroffelees and Javier Cid’s Macavity are particularly noteworthy.
Ringing the auditorium with coloured globes and making us aware that we are intruders on some very soecial rituals during the overture with its pairs of cats’ eyes winking at us ll over the stage are Eaton’s lights, as much an integral part of the experience as those animal costumes, masks and make-up so far removed from the concept of the pantomime “animal skin”. It really is total theatre throughout.
Cats runs at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend until 23 July with matinées on 20 and 23 July.