Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Cats

Andrew Lloyd Webber from T.S.Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
Southampton Mayflower and touring
(2004)

A photo from Cats

"Theatre," observes old 'Gus croakily, "is not what it was."

How appropriate, then, that it is Patrick Clancy, as the old theatre cat, who belatedly stirs life into prematurely smouldering embers of Chrissie Cartwright's reworking of the Trevor Nunn - Gillian Lynne production of Cats, which opened a national tour at the Southampton Mayflower on Tuesday (13 April).

Don't take my word for it. Children seated below me bemoan at the interval absence of story and loss of words in heavy amplification. Without the words, and much more feeling for the characters of these creatures, all described in T.S.Eliot's original Possum's Book, there is no story.

Along comes the interval, and perhaps at Tuesday's press night, a dressing room pep talk, too. Most of all, along comes old Gus, ably supported by Deuteronomy, another old timer represented by the rich voiced James Patterson, together with a ringingly feline-voiced Jellylorum in Karen Evans. These three clearly know what a cat has to do!

It must be said, too, much of Eliot's best Possum's material packs into the second half. Simon Adkins is exposed as the criminal Macavity, Guy-Paul Ruolt de St German wears down his claws, if not his long name, as twinklepaws Mr Mistoffellees - and there is the transmogification of Grizabella.

Chrissie Hammond's Memory does not suffer so much from the fame of being one of Elaine Paige's greatest triumphs. Half the new audience barely remember that. Rather, it is the mysterious absence of dawn and rebirth, which leaves us all wondering if that, really is the end of the show.

The size of the wardrobe team, together with off-stage repairs extras, is a fair indication of the tremendous imagination shown here, though make up is no longer as detailed as it used to be, even for Dick Whittington's companion.

David Hersey's lighting, however, is too subdued even for cats. It would be nice to see how many of them really are grey!

Stuart Calvert's orchestra maintains a relentless pace that frequently has the audience clapping in time. Yet the accompaniment, not least in volume, could do much more to help the young company realise T.S. Eliot's visions which, one suspects, were neglected in their own more recent childhood.

"Cats" is at The Mayflower until 8th May before visiting Bristol (10 - 24 May), Canterbury (31 May - 14 June) and Norwich (21 June - 5 July)

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole