Cats at the London Palladium is a musical unlike any other. The show is based on the poems of T.S. Eliot, and brought to life by the songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the choreography of Gillian Lynne. Cats does not in any way follow the trends of a standard musical: it is led by style, not plot, and at times seemed more like a show-case than a show. Whilst the music sometimes jarred a little, the choreography of this production was spectacular. If you are looking for an absolute visual feast, then Cats is most definitely the musical for you. If you are looking for more traditional West End music and a clear plot, you perhaps ought to to go elsewhere.
The point of Cats seemed to be to show off talent and style. This resulted in the show coming across as rather erratic and confusing. It took a little while to get used this, which is perhaps why I personally found Act Two much more enjoyable than Act One. However, once used to the style of Cats, it was easy to embrace and enjoy the show. Something that I particularly liked was the way in which the show drew in its audience. At several points throughout the show, the cats even came out into the audience. Touches like this were well-placed.
I was surprised by the part of Cats that I enjoyed the most. I expected to enjoy certain songs that I found a little anti-climatic when it actually came to them. However, there was several songs that turned out to be pleasant surprises. It is, perhaps, best to go to Cats with no specific expectations. My personal highlights were usually when the whole cast was one stage: Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats, for example, made a fabulous opening. Songs such as Mr. Mistoffelees, Memory and Macavity were, of course, brilliant, but there were also some less obvious favourites: Mungojerrie & Rumpleteazer and Skimbleshanks being just two of these.
Overall, the music of Cats was good, but there are certainly other Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals with better scores. Granted, songs such as 'Memory' have become iconic for good reason, but some of the songs jarred with the rest of the show. There was a bit of rap, for example, which I did not really enjoy at all.
The show was really made by its superb choreography, as created by Gillian Lynne. It was simply breathtaking: I was bowled over when Mungojerrie (Harry Francis) and Rumpelteazer (Georgie Leatherland) performed a two-person cartwheel, and when the cats 'pounced' across the set as though they were walking on air. Mr. Mistoffelees (Mark John Richardson) performed with all the ease and grace of a real cat – as did Matt Krzan, who played Munkustrap. The feline nuances of the dance added another extremely impressive layer to the show; all in all, it is only fair to say that the choreography was by far the best part Cats. It was a visual feast.
Adding to this visual effect was a wonderful set. The stage of the London Palladium was utilised perfectly by the junk-yard set of this show. There were pieces of 'junk' reaching out from the stage, so that the audience were completely immersed and it was hard to tell where the set ended and the seating began. Equally impressive were the costumes used – they gave each cat such a distinctive characteristic that, even through the confusion of the show, it was easy to understand the cats' personalities from one glance.
The lighting used during the show was another extremely strong point. I absolutely loved the part in Mr Mistoffelees where the cat seemed to catch the moonlight in his hand and then manipulate it. The precision of the lighting throughout the show was wonderful, and created such a strong sense of ambience that it was hard not to be draw in.
The cast were all exceptionally strong. Matt Krzan, as Munkustrap, carried the show along perfectly. But it is hard to pick out favourites, when it comes to casting, for this show, because the whole performance was reliant on everybody. Each cast member had an important part to play, and they all delivered with the sort of elegance and talent that you only really see in shows such as this.
Beverly Knight, playing Grizabella, was very impressive. When she performed the first rendition of Memory, I have to admit that I was a little underwhelmed. But when, in Act Two, she absolutely stunned me with her reprise of the same song, my mind was swiftly changed. Even so, I would not go so far as to say that she was the 'star of the show', since Cats does really allow for anybody to be this. Beverly Knight was just one of the extremely talented cast members to perform in Cats.
It is worth knowing, before you go to see this show, that you do not need to know the poems on which it is based to enjoy the show. You simply have to go with an open mind – and without expecting a beginning–middle–end plot to develop.
Overall, Cats was a visually impressive show-case of what the West End can do. Its unique and sometimes erratic style would probably only suit some people, and the music was not Andrew Lloyd Webber's best – but I did go away from this show feeling as though I had experienced the core of West End talent. If you want to see something totally different, then catch Cats before it closes in January next year.
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