As a child I had an Andrew Lloyd Webber trilogy of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar and Cats on VHS. The latter remained untouched for all of my childhood after seeing a few clips and being left totally bemused. So with Coronavirus giving me all the time in the world I decided to take it on.
Since the show was released I’ve discovered that Cats seems to be very controversial with many people having a strong opinion on the classic musical. Based on TS Eliot’s book of poems, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the show guides you to meet all characters of the jellicle cat clan as they meet at the jellicle ball to decide who shall rise to the ‘Heaviside Layer’. (I’m not sure we ever fully learn what that exactly is…)
That’s pretty much all the plot, so I’d definitely call it a character-driven piece. In this particular 1998 production we are treated to a cast starring Elaine Page, John Partridge, John Mills and Rosemarie Ford.
From a visual and choreography perspective I thought it was really strong. The legendary Dame Gillian Lynne did a fantastic job with her high energy choreography incorporating feline motions with ballet, jazz and show dance moves. It’s her movement paired with a clever junkyard set and incredible costumes that makes it feel like an insight into the kitty world.
Each cat is introduced to us through their own song, portraying their character traits and role within the cat pack. Some of these numbers are better than others. Obviously Memory, beautifully sung by Elaine Paige as Grizabella, is iconic. I felt this was the moment of most emotion in the show, with the rest of the production not tugging at my heart strings as I wanted it to.
I adored John Partridge as Rum Tum Tugger with his brash bravado and raunchy rockstar character in both his own number and throughout the rest of the show. He demands attention and you can’t help but give it to him.
Acrobatic pair Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer as well as villain Macavity also had strong character numbers which made my ears prick up. I found a fair few musical songs causing my attention to drift. I can’t say I was gripped from beginning to end but massively enjoyed many moments and was pleasantly surprised by the bizarre world I found myself in.
I almost didn’t expect to like it but it actually tickled my whiskers. Weak plot and a few duller songs aside I thought it was a strong production of an iconic musical.
This production of Cats translates well to screen with close ups and dynamic shots adding further layers to the visuals of the mismatched junkyard and the intricate choreography.
Sadly this is the last production in the run of ALW’s The Show Must Go On free show streams. In the process he has raised over half a million pounds for the Actors Fund. Bravo!