“So let me get this straight – it’s a bunch of dancing and singing felines based on poems for children.” I’ll admit it – Cats is a hard idea to sell. If you’re trying to convince a non-musical lover to come with you, or if you’re just undecided between quality Christmas TV or Jeremy Kyle, and a night at The New Theatre, then there are no easy tag lines to help.
For those unfamiliar with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s show, Cats is based on T. S. Eliot’s collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. The show is the story of how a tribe of cats, the Jellicles, choose which one of them will go the Heaviside Layer and be reborn into a new life. Don’t let its slightly peculiar premise fool you – this musical has won loads of prizes, has been translated into 10 languages and is one of the longest shows running on Broadway.
The New Theatre 2013 production shows why Cats fully deserves these accolades. The New Theatre performance sticks with the traditional make-up – but that’s no issue. The costumes are absolutely fantastic: the emergence of the cast through the audience means even up-close the costumes are impressive, with sequins and minute detailing. The set is magnificent, with teetering towers of scrap reflecting the lighting, offering a variety of interesting methods of entrance and exit, and functioning as a multilevel dance platform.
The music, being a Lloyd-Webber, is of course excellent. The singing is sublime, with a personal highlight being the absolute classic ‘Memory.’ I’m a huge fan of the Elaine Page version and so was nervous about seeing someone new do an all-time favourite. Thankfully, such fears were unfounded. Sophia Ragavelas’ spine tingling rendition was just as raw, poignant and tear jerking. All the other familiar tunes, such as the foot-tapping ‘The Rum Tum Tugger’ and smile-inducing ‘Skimbleshanks’, were both aural and visual delights.
What makes the singing most impressive is the way it’s integrated with choreography – all the cast is note and foot perfect. ‘Mister Mistoffelees’ is known to have some of most challenging moves in all theatre, yet Joseph Poulton makes 24 fouettés en tournant look effortless. The entire ensemble does a slick and astonishing array of acrobatics alongside a plethora of perfectly performed dance styles, from ballet to jazz. Oh, and tap dancing cockroaches, anyone?
To sum up: Cats – to buy a ticket or not? Jellicles can and Jellices do – so should you.