Cats. A Lloyd-Webber classic, and one which I’d only seen before on VHS, which tells you roughly how long ago that was. My hazy memory is of some catchy 80s tunes and zinging dance numbers, but nothing that really resembles a plot. My memory served me well.
Trevor Nunn claims this to be an updated version, but the synths of the 80s were front and centre. Rum Tum Tugger was translated from a rock and rolling cat to a rapping bad boy, but it was more Fresh Prince than Jay-Z. In essence, Cats is dated, “and there’s no doin’ anything about it.” However, I was still impressed. I just didn’t feel the same spark I usually get from musicals.
Even after watching the Rio gymnastics, the choreography and skill of the dancers is undeniable. Joe Henry and Emily Langham are mesmerising as the deliciously mischievous Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer (is the song in your head now?!), working together in an impressive acrobatic dance display with heart-stopping cartwheels, somehow still managing great vocal ability. The stand-out dancer is Shiv Rabheru as Mistoffelees, producing a balletic performance with some seriously impressive pirouettes. The cast is superb, and as they prowl and nuzzle their way through the crowd and interact with the audience, you really do believe in the Jellicle Cats.
There aren’t many moments in Cats that stir the emotions. But there was one thing that gave a little tug on my heartstrings: Marianne Benedict’s Grizabella. Memory is a song we all know, and is the best song in the show by a mile, but what Benedict manages is to really show Grizabella’s anguish. Her voice is beautiful, but her performance is also honest. The performance of Grizabella is vital to the success of the show, as hers is the only story that shapes any kind of narrative.
Individual and ensemble performances made the show. It’s energised and the cast is outstanding, but ultimately the reimagining is lacklustre.
Words by Katie Dancey