REVIEW: CATS (New Wimbledon Theatre) ★★★

catsIf there’s one show from my childhood I remember listening to again and again it’s CATS, so needless to say I was incredibly excited when I saw it had rolled back into town. I was with excitement to hear the songs I loved so much when I was younger and had high hopes that after seeing it I could convince my partner that for next Halloween we should go as MungoJerry and Rumpleteaser.

However, when pushed to give a brief plot summery I realised just how strange this show actually is. In a line, once a year a bunch of cats get together for a big party and then the oldest cat picks one of them to go to kitty heaven. Oh and there’s this old cat who no one likes because she used to be glamorous and now looks like she’s done one too many lines in a toilet cubicle. And there you have it. The emperor’s clothes have been revealed and it’s bonkers.

That’s not to say it’s not incredibly well done and beautiful to watch, but it is bonkers. This production is filled to the brim with talent and it’s hard not to be in awe at the sheer physicality of the cast. Lithe and languid, they do Chrissie Cartwright’s choreography justice. From Sophia McAvoy’s poised movements as White Cat to the boundless energy of Joe Henry & Emily Langham’s Mungojerry and Rumpleteaser, the whole cast embody their feline character’s from whiskers to tail.

However, I was less than impressed to see how for this production Rum Tum Tugger has been updated into a rapping and street dancing caricature. That’s right, rather than the oddly sexual and supremely confident alley cat that I has expected, Rum Tum Tugger has been neutered. The trouble is the update feels embarrassing and even more dated than the synthesisers that seem to be the main instrument in the score. It’s not to say that Marcquelle Ward’s performance is bad, he does the best he can with a terrible character and I would have loved to have seen him in the original role.

CATS was certainly an enjoyable evening and it still has a lot of snap. The catchy songs will still stay in your head, visually it’s gorgeous and its a puuurrrrrfect family show. But I’d be lying if I said I was fully engrossed in it; the music is slightly faded, the updates really work and I’m only now after 20 years realising how thin the plot is.

Reviewed by Roz Carter
Photo: Alessandro Pinna

CATS is playing at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 12 November 2016