Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot.
A Really Useful Theatre Company Production
Derngate Theatre, Northampton, and touring
Cats seems to be one of those musicals which has been around since time began. It certainly has a special individuality to it and this is no different to the production currently playing at the Northampton's Royal and Derngate.
With possibly the most fantastic and creative costume and stage-make up, each performer strutted and purred around the stage with energy and commitment. There were some beautiful physical moments in this production, little individual touches that turned human into Jellicle Cat.
Yet no matter how original the idea behind the show might be, it does feel a little dated. The cynical side of me felt at times as though I was watching a dance show with great costumes. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that Cats was written over 25 years ago. Perhaps at the time it was ground breaking, yet the show does seem to have aged a little.
In terms of what the production team has done with this production, there is no debating the obvious quality. With Gillian Lynne's pure invention in the choreography mixed with John Napier's imaginative set, the show has an aesthetic appearance that is a joy to look at.
The look of the show is helped by David Hersey's lighting design that holds a fine balance for the darker, more intimate scenes and spills out into the audience flashing with delight when Mr Mistoffelees or Rum Tum Tugger makes an entrance.
Look out for the entrances and exits of the Cats, especially. As they often move on and off the stage via the auditorium, there are some moments when you literally come face to face with a human sized Feline.
In this production, Zoë Smith took the role of Grizabella. Considering Smith normally plays Demeter, her performance was very impressive. She owned the stage during 'Memory' and really seemed to get the character, portraying the sadness and reflection on days gone by.
Craig Turbyfield also stepped in to play Mistoffelees with an exquisite portrayal, managing to convey the magical side of the role with a sleek movement that never seemed over the top or too far away from the heart of the character.
There are many examples of excellent performances in this cast. Mungo Jerry is played with energy, Bustopher Jones is presented as a likeable larger than life character and Gus the Theatre Cat is a fine example of any 'old luvvy.' The list could go on and there is no doubting that this is an excellent Cats Production team.
Yet, despite all this, there is still something missing for me in the substance of the show. As noted above, this may have something to do with the notion behind the production. In other words, perhaps I am not totally convinced that the re-working of T.S. Eliot's writing really works.
However, there will be those who love the idea. Those individuals who do should definitely catch Cats at the Royal and Derngate before they disappear into the darkness.
"Cats" plays at the Royal and Derngate Theatre, Northampton, until Saturday 21st July.
David Chadderton reviewed this production in Manchester
Reviewer: John Johnson