Saturday, July 21, 2012

Free Rain: Cats

What a completely ridiculous show this is - people dressed up as cats, singing children's comic verses as if they were Psalms.  Did I say The Magic Flute was the stupidest plot I'd seen this week? Hmmm.

If you've seen Cats before - and who hasn't - you already know that.  So leaving aside the terrible book, this is a pretty good production.  Most of the cast is very strong - Jordan Kelly is fabulous (if typecast) as the pelvis-thrusting Rum Tum Tugger (bonus points for the fainting kittens); David Collins is plumply hilarious as Bustopher Jones and Growltiger; Chris Pappas and Michelle Norris were great together as Mungo Jerry and Rumpleteazer.  (Seriously, how brilliant is Michelle Norris?  I want to hate her because she's SO attractive, but she's just an absolute standout in everything she touches).

I thought the direction was lovely - everywhere you looked, there were cats doing cat things, lying about like cats, nosing into things, washing themselves and playing.  Changing the set to a theatre rather than a rubbish dump was not a bad idea - but most of the props were then out of proportion, unfortunately, being the same size as the cats instead of the size that they should have been for humans.  The band was flawless; I do not much care for the music in this show, but it was perfectly performed.  And the choreography was excellent; tight, energetic, and it used all of the capacity of the best dancers without going past the reach of the weaker ones.

Costumes, recycled from the Philo show of a few years ago, were also excellent, if not always totally flattering for the human squeezed into them.  I'd award points for bravery, but would doubtless offend, so I won't.

Disappointments: not too many.  A few of the cast may have been affected by cat flu here and there - some usually strong voices were not showing at their best.  Roy Hukari as Munkustrap sang well, though he was just as portentous here as he was in Blood Brothers and - well, pretty much everything else I've seen him in. Lighten up, Roy! It's a show about pussycats!  The idea of raising Grizabella to the Heavyside Layer in a pram should have worked OK, except the pram remained at the top of the set, leaving us to wonder if Grizabella was only, in fact, in Purrgatory (see what I did there?).  And no one can be blamed for this except Lloyd Webber, but how deeply stupid is the "Macavity steals Old Deuteronomy and then Mr Mistoffeles magicks him back" subplot?  I've always thought it stupid, but in this production it seemed really, outstandingly, extravagantly stupid, and I'm wondering if perhaps other productions have merely managed to disguise it a bit better.

Mr Mistoffeles himself, incidentally, is a dancer to watch out for; I've forgotten his name (feel free to remind me in the comments), but was hugely impressed and hope to see a lot more of his work in future.

Another disappointment - actually an inverted compliment - was the underuse of Lachlan Ruffy, who I think is my Performer of the Year thus far.  I know he can dance - I saw his Tin Man last year - but he didn't seem to be used in any of the big dance numbers.  I know he can sing, but he only got one "character" number.  At least we did get to see him act, as (Aspara)Gus the Theatre Cat, presumably cast by someone who saw his 'Logues performance earlier in the year and knew he could play 4 times his actual age.  As usual, he stayed in character for the whole show - in Act One as the Rumpus Cat, mimicking the dancers from the couch, and in Act Two, keeping up the palsied paw until and including the curtain call.

So - what can I say? It's Cats. If you hate Cats, you'll still, I think, be able to recognise the quality of this production; alternatively, if you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you will like.  I'm in the first (ahem) cat-egory.

** NB: Spoiler alert: In Act 2, a cat will come on stage and sing a song about itself.

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