First performed in 1981, Cats is one of the longest-running and most successful musicals of all time and is currently touring the UK. Based on T. S. Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Cats tells the story of a group of cats known as the Jellicles who gather together one night each year to make the ‘Jellicle choice’. On this particular night the Jellicle’s join in celebration and their leader, Old Deuteronomy, selects one of the cats who will then be reborn.
Initially upon entering the theatre your eyes are drawn to the set, known as the junk yard. John Napier’s original design from the 1980s is still largely the same in the 2016 tour and is made in a way to try and draw the audience into a place where cats might congregate. The junk yard flows over the edges of the stage and slightly into the audience. The actual ‘cats’ also came into the audience at various points in the show, making the audience feel more involved and aware that the cats were acknowledging their human audience and were welcoming them into their world.
One of the most notable things about the performance was the lighting design by David Hersey which was captivating. At the start various green cat eyes began to light up the stage. Lightbulbs were woven throughout the junk yard set and went around the top of the stage to hang over the audience. These bulbs lit up at various different parts of the musical, not only making the audience feel more included but in songs like the Jellicle Ball created a party atmosphere.
The costume design has barely changed over the years, with the bulk of the costumes being cat-like leotards with some variations. Mr Mestoffelees’ costume was one that stood out the most, this magical cat had a costume covered in sparkles, much more glamorous than the other leotards. The costume design is crucial in a musical like cats since it is very hard to keep track of who is who without remembering what their leotard is like.
Performed solely through song and dance, Cats is a musical with high demands for its performers. Whilst the choreography by Gillian Lynne was clearly very intricate and mostly carried out flawlessly there were moments when large ensemble dances had slight hiccups with timing. However, the choreography was clearly designed with the careful intention to give the performers ‘cat-like presence’ on stage and this showed.
The most notable performance was from Marriane Benedict who portrayed Grizabella, the Glamour Cat. Shunned by the rest of the tribe, Grizabella spends most of the show attempting to return to the Jellciles’ good graces. Act Two is when she performs the heart-breaking iconic song of ‘Memory’ which Marriane certainly did justice and her voice simply blew the audience away.
Although most of the musical remains the same as the 1980s classic, there has been the attempt to bring the ‘The Rum Tum Tugger’ song up to date. Sang by the ‘bad boy’ of the cats, the initial score made this character into a rock and roll, Elvis Presley kind of bad boy. However, in this version, to make it more relevant to bad boy characters of the 21st century the song is largely a rap with some club music style sounds mixed into it. This was completely out of place with the rest of the musical and came across as completely ridiculous.
I honestly lost track of what was happening in the show on numerous occasions. The lack of a significant plot basically resulted in the entire second act being a ‘who’s who’ of T. S Elliot’s cats and had no real contribution to the overall story. Nevertheless it certainly had many audience members clapping along at various points in the show and whilst the musical itself was not too enjoyable for me, this particular production and many of the performances in it were incredible.