Cat and Mouse

Paul Barritt and Laurence Owen
1927 Theatre Company
Village Underground

Lesley Ewen Credit: Matt Humphrey
The Officer Pup Band Credit: Matt Humphrey
Cat and Mouse Credit: Matt Humphrey

Cat and Mouse is Village Underground’s first foray into something approximating theatre. But the screened-animation-accompanied-by-live-band is an art the 1927 Theatre Company behind this show has been perfecting for a while.

This hour-long visual and aural feast, based on the original Krazy Kat stories by George Harriman (the little-known cartoonist Tom and Jerry would also be inspired by), appears to serve up a traditional allegory of predator and prey, of good versus evil.

There are echoes of the fall of man, with Cat moving from the blank backdrop of natural innocence to the cityscape of civilisation, orchestrated by Mouse who gets Cat hooked on catnip and then sells it to Cat, along with the dream that he needs a suit and a job to have the things he wants.

The repeated silhouette of Cat and Mouse working a handcar shows the railroad carving up the land as Mouse’s “progress (it is unrelenting)” carves up innocence. The dystopian vision that unfolds finds both discord and harmony in an experimental soundscape from The Officer Pup Band, performing live and masked.

Narrator Lesley Ewen draws in the audience with lines like, “there is no failure except the failure to serve one’s purpose,” spoken in a drawl as unsettling as a creaking door in a silent old house. But if there’s a simple parable here, it’s disrupted. Identities are deliberately muddled, defying attempts to read into Cat and Mouse a didactic narrative. A scene that appears to be about race relations, for example, is soon confused: why is mouse fighting mouse when Mouse has been fighting Cat? Why has white mouse suddenly appeared to split black mouse’s homogeneity and what does it mean?

The black-garbed, Tim Burton-esque narrator seems to answer these questions with the explanation, “can’t seem to make the words right, can’t seem to paint the world bright”. Ewen entreats the audience to “find me a metaphor that works”. The metaphor may be mixed but the satire about our age is clear: TV destroying brain cells; plastic surgery failing to heal the superficiality of modern sexuality; the futility of war.

This is human history but without a clear message, because it’s not as simple as blaming power, after all “a bad mouse is not a mouse, without a good cat.” The story is set up for the audience to judge. But the binary choice on offer (much like the election night I watched it on) is false—it turns out there is a third way… because “condemnation will be our damnation.”

Cat and Mouse will be at Village Underground until 9 June and will then be at Latitude Festival 13 to 16 July.

Reviewer: Belle Donati

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