A review by Julia Gasper
CATS is unique. There has never been anything else quite like it and there never will be. A blend of ballet, singing, poetry, humour and fantasy, it takes the droll rhymes of cat-lover T.S.Eliot and creates a phantasmagoria of action and spectacle that is sheer entertainment. Eliot’s cat poems, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, are not really for children, although they have the freedom of invention and quirkiness that children’s authors often enjoy: the poems are sophisticated, ageless, witty, sometimes poignant and full of idiosyncratic fun. Writing them seems to have been his way of breaking out of his image of the hopelessly highbrow, negative, bellyaching culture-vulture who was already in his own lifetime held up as the greatest poet of his time. Instead of lamenting about the downfall of Western civilisation, he lets his hair down and just has a bit of fun. What a good idea!
There are some ballets that introduce animal or bird characters, but none that gives the dancers, along with the costume and makeup departments, more of a wonderful field day, creating imaginative feline outfits. Cats are sensual, slinky and sexy creatures, and the dancers can enjoy representing their supple, elastic bodies, albeit with a degree of energy and verve that cats, in my experience, rarely display. We saw outstanding performances from all the cast, particularly Sophia McAvoy (Victoria), Emily Langham (Rumpelteazer) Josh Andrews (Alonzo) Shiv Rhaberu (Quaxo), Javier Cid (Macavity) and Lee Greenaway (Skimbleshanks). As Grizabella, the faded beauty, remembering her better days, Marianne Benedict sang outstandingly and touchingly.
Andrew Lloyd Webber certainly has a talent for musical pastiche. The score is really a sequence of pastiches of every type of popular and show music of the twentieth-century, including American jazz band and film score styles, all very cleverly orchestrated and using the full range of special sound effects and colouring. In every one of his musicals, he manages to write at least one Big Tune that is a real zinger. In Cats it is “Memory” the song first sung by Grizabella at the end of the first Act. It does not really gain by being repeated as a duet with Jemima, and I think it is pity when it is belted out at maximum decibels by the full orchestra and cast for a third time. Too much volume creates a harsh, unpleasing sound quality and this sort of production needs to be careful, as louder is not always better. Although the scene for the most part represents night-time, I still think that a little more lighting would have helped the audience to see the details of the show better, and from time to time the amplification could have been turned down.
Incredibly, CATS is now thirty-five years old, but it still comes up fresh for those who have never seen it. It has been made into a film, translated into 20 languages and performed around the world. It makes a good family night out so if you have never seen this classic musical, take your chance while it is in Oxford this week.
Julia Gasper 28/09/2016
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