Over 30 years since it first opened and became a worldwide phenomenon, Cats has made a triumphant return to the West End for a limited run at the London Palladium, reminding the world of the British knack for creating theatrical titans like this one. It’s one thing to have a stellar creative team such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Trevor Nunn and Gillian Lynne, but it’s something else to assemble a cast that can pull off this technically challenging production with the grace of … well, a feline. On Bonfire Night, these talented performers set the theatre on fire with the help of incredible choreography, score and design.
Cats promises to be a real treat from the minute you clamp eyes on the beautiful set, designed by John Napier. It comes to life as soon as the house lights go down, yellow pairs of eyes blinking at you from in between larger than life Kit Kats packets, tennis rackets, metal piping and even stripped clean boxes of Felix cat food! Once the cats have all emerged, it’s clear that the whole production is visually stunning, from detailed fish bones on the set to the extraordinary movements and costumes of the cast. I had a smile pinned to my face for the entire introduction to the fantastic Jellicle Cats.
The show is formed almost entirely from characters and lines from T S Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, introducing us to the cats one by one. Both the sharp witty lines of Eliot and the expressive nature of the cats bring these brilliant characters to life. Memorable performances included Munkustrap (the narrator), played by Matt Krzan, the bumbling Jennyanydots, played by Jane Quinn and the mischevious duo Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer, played by Harry Francis and Georgie Leatherland. The Rum Tum Tugger has been the subject of complete reinvention; he’s been transformed from a Mick Jagger-esque tomcat to swaggering contemporary street cat played by Marcquelle Ward. On paper it seems like a risky move but it ultimately pays off due to Ward’s laddish charm. Mr Mistofflees’ musical number was also a hit with the audience, showing off the fun and glittery side of the West End with buckets of charm and razzle dazzle.
The success of a musical like Cats is ultimately down to its ensemble, there were so many standout performances that it seemed every single actor was giving a star performance, yet they all worked together in beautiful synchronicity. However the undeniable star of Cats was the incredible Beverly Knight as the faded glamourpuss, Grizabella. You could feel all the hairs on your back stand up as she belted that final verse in 'Memory'; I felt really honoured to be in that audience watching her! She’s a national treasure, as shown by her MBE, and has had the West End spellbound ever since her first musical, the Bodyguard in 2013.
The production has a real family feel to it, everyone can appreciate the stunning costumes and makeup, awesome dance sequences and quirky characters. During the interval families can go up onto the stage and meet Old Deuteronomy himself, the old, beloved leader of the Jellicles. Cats is on a limited run but there is absolutely no expense spared on this fabulous production. It is a showcase of the best that British theatre has to offer, technically brilliant but also has the ability to appeal to a really wide audience. Trevor Nunn likes to call it a “revolutionary musical” and I’m sure it will see many more revivals because after all, Cats is, and always will be, an important part of musical theatre history.
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