Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Tom Hooperís film version of the mega hit musical is a futile, wretched fever dream with huge cult potential.

Cats

Tom Hooper , Chapter , December-28-19
Cats by Tom Hooper Starring: Francesca Hayward, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, Jason Derulo, Rebel Wilson, James Corden, Judi Dench, Jennifer Hudson, Mette Towley, Steve McRae, Taylor Swift & Ray Winstone.


Where to begin with this? Itís such a tragedy that my last review for the decade is a god awful film. Why Cats was chosen as an idea for movie is bizarre, over other Lloyd Weber musicals such as Sunset Boulevard or Whistle Down the Wind. Not since Ari Asterís Midsummer have I been this disturbed in the cinema. Even the Furry counter-culture refuse to call this their own.

Much has been said about the horrendous CGI, formulating into these cat-human hybrids that are the definition of the Uncanny Valley. They even come off as Deep Fakes, a recent trend of splicing people faces onto other peoples bodies. The faces are so fake on the bodies, due to all the fur applied in post that it remains a horrid vision throughout. Iíll confess, the ears are decent, such as in moments when the cats are brought to attention and they jolt upwards as an actual catís might do. Having said this, why do some cats wear fur coats? Why do the proportions of the cats (the impressively large sets donít help) appear to change from scene to scene? Even the creators of the newest Sonic film knew to alter they way things look, due to the abysmal public response. How on earth this was considered for a Visual Effects Oscar crinkles the brain. To quote John Cage: ďI was fascinated, since everything was going wrongĒ.

The songs vary in appeal (Grizabella, the Glamour Cat is my firm favourite) and some of the incidental music is noteworthy. The cheesy, cheap synths at the opening remain a guilty pleasure. Though the stage show is a sung through musical, here there are brief moments of dialogue during the songs which usually come out of nowhere declaring the next character in itís roll call. The new song Beautiful Ghosts by both Lloyd Weber and Taylor Swift adds little to nothing to the experience. Some of the performances are truly awful, Rebel Wilson and James Corden come to mind with their cringe worthy attempt at humour, making you laugh at just how unfunny they are here. A surprise appearance from Ray Winstone threw me off guard.

The natural lighting of Hooperís previous work (he keeps the exposing close ups though), is thrown out like that of Victoria, the lead cat here played by Francesca Hayward. A ballerina by trade, her voice has a high, raw quality not quite appeasing my snobbish needs. The ensemble of dancing, prancing cats are from the Royal Ballet, with wild choreography by Christopher Ross. The dance work is noteworthy (especially in the live show) and the addition of newer, more popular forms of dance is a desperate attempt to make this more relevant to todayís audiences. The uncomfortable and embarrassing moments are aplenty here. I found myself giddy with laughter during the boat scene towards the end of the film, with tears of joy from the absurdity of the whole thing.

Taylor Swift singing Macavity was a highlight. Though I do see some bias in her inflated breasts and the removable of Jason Deruloís (playing Rum Tum Tugger) bulge as criminal, he even said so in an interview. Derulo adds a funky vibe, with hilarious cries and moans. Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella adds a serious tone to the proceedings, making things a little too fraught. Her rendition of Memory has depth, yet the exhaustion in her acting takes way from it all, her CGI some of the worst parts in the entire film. Ian Mckellan and Judi Dench add prestige, though they fact they sing was not a wise decision. Idris Alba as Macavity is hammy and does not quite work. Steve McRae as Skimbleshanks showed of his tap dance skills, in a song which has a random appearance and begins to becom pretty annoying. Cats could also prove to make a great cult hit, a new century Rocky Horror if you will.

Two versions of this film now exist and I donít believe either is watchable without a twist of ironic malice. Maybe I would have been kinder if I could have heard a few seconds of purring, something I find to be extremely relaxing.

One expects this feline flop to sweep the board at the Razzies in the new year. Frightful.

Rating: 1 star

Cats is at Chapter Arts Centre till 9th January 2020 and also on general release.

Photo Credit: Fandango.com

Reviewed by: James Ellis

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