Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

A musical that has matured with age and grace.

Cats

Really Useful Company , New Theatre Cardiff , June 30, 2006
Cats by Really Useful Company Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic music CATS is based on “Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats” by T.S Elliot, a collection of poems originally meant for children but adored by people of all ages. It was adapted over 20 years ago by Lloyd Webber, choreographed and put to music, and before long became an international musical phenomenon. The fact that it has been running ever since is true testimony to its enduring success.

Although I knew a selection of the songs and had heard of the show’s unique reputation I had never before seen CATS. The opening scene was a desolate junk yard. Although the scenery only changed once, the fantastic choreography and music made the transition of moods very smooth without the need for scenery change. The large cast give it 110% and the wonderful costumes and their dancing ability allow them to convey the range of colourful characters, including visits to the seats of members of the audience from time to time!

The main body of the story is based on the Jellicle Cats: these are superior to the others and much of the performance is based on the Jellicle Ball. This is the night when their leader Deuteronomy chooses who will be reborn into the life of a Jellicle Cat once again. Throughout the performance the cats introduce different members of their tribe to us, via poetry, song and dance.

My first impression was to be struck by the cast’s precision of movement. Every movement was trained to be like that of a cat. This physical theatre fascinated me, not only how lithe they were but how one movement can capture the mood of the character. Furthermore, the timing was impeccable.

Recently, Cats has faced criticisms claiming that “the musical is showing its age”. For me, it felt like a musical that has matured with age and grace. I would describe CATS as a classic car. It fulfils the function of entertaining you, and it does this in a way that no brand new Ford Focus could do. You appreciate each little touch in the car and it makes you smile. You are constantly looking at each crevice and it can enchant you for your whole journey.

The highlight of the show for me was Grizabella, the glamour cat played by Dianna Pilkington. She had once been a very beautiful cat but had left the Jellicle Cats to explore the outside world. Now Grizabella had come back from her explorations as a mere shadow of what she once was (cue the famous “Memory”). She then tries to become part of the Jellicle Cats once again but at first they reject her.

Although Grizabella is a shadow of what she once was the glamour was astounding. Tiny touches like a deep red nail varnish that you can barely see made her so alive. Not only was her voice superb, but its power was unbelievable. Pilkington’s portrayal of Grizabella was emotive and purely beautiful. “Memory,” was sung three times throughout the show and performed by two different characters. Already a fan of the song, it wasn’t until seeing it in the musical that I saw its true meaning.

I thoroughly enjoyed this musical with the combination of its unusual script, fabulous choreography, overwhelming talent of the cast and an amazing orchestra. Long may this classic car keep on running!

CATS runs at the New Theatre from Tuesday 20 June - Saturday 15 July (Evenings 7.30pm; Thursday & Saturday Matinees 2.30pm), with tickets from £11.

Reviewed by: Harriet Sylvester

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