There’s a line sung by Gus, the Theatre Cat, where he says that ‘these modern productions are all very well, but there’s nothing to equal from what I hear tell’. My feelings about Cats could not have been summed up finer than by him.
Cats tells the everyday and ordinary story of the Jellicle cats at their annual ball, where they find out who has been chosen as “the Jellicle choice” and ascended to the Heaviside Layer in order to become reborn and start a new life. Pretty realistic, I know.
The ensemble’s dance technique cannot be faulted. In the opening prologue and the Jellice Ball sequence, their jettes and balletic movements as they sweep across the Palladium stage are marvellous to watch. And visually, it cannot be faulted. The set extends right into the dress circle with staircases from the stage leading into its seating, and the lighting design with coloured baubles reaching the top of the Palladium, arranged in a sort of circus-top shape. But overall, like a lot of new musicals in the West End, it’s all visuals over any real, emotional substance that can engage and connect audience members.
There was one name on everyone’s lips though: Kerry Ellis. Throughout the show, my constant thought process was, ‘WHERE IS SHE?! GET UP ON STAGE ELLIS!’ And did she deliver? A resounding, and unsurprising, yes. Physically vulnerable but emotionally powerful, she carries THE song (you know which one I mean) with style and ease. Nonetheless, one person’s performance does not mean it can save the show.
For instance, after watching Webber’s modern-day rapper version of the Rum Tum Tugger, I felt like I needed to down a glass of rum. Straight. Even though Webber, unnecessarily, tried to make Cats more ‘young’ and ‘cool’, it seems Antoine Murray-Straughan needs to go back to theatre school instead and work on his vocal pitch. Performances by Natasha Mould as Jemima, duetting with Ellis in ‘Memory’ beautifully, and Nicholas Pound as Old Deuteronomy, with a powerful tenor vocal, helped revive the magic that has made Cats one of the most loved British musicals.
Despite Ellis’ performance and the colourful lighting and set design, however, Webber’s newest version of Cats lacked in heart and emotion. Outstanding the quality of the dancing may be, rather than telling a story, if any, Cats is much more of an extravagant dance showcase rather than a piece of musical theatre.
Reviewed by Jack Grey
Cats is playing at the London Palladium until 25 April 2015. Click here to book tickets.
Read my recent interview with Kerry Ellis about Cats here