Although I am too young to have been around for the 1980s hey-day, if you are to any degree knowledgeable about musical theatre it is impossible to be ignorant of the legend that is Cats. My Mum singing along to ‘Memory’ from the radio in the kitchen (pitching an octave lower for those climactic top notes) is just one of those childhood memories that I can’t put a date to, and those eyes from the famous poster somehow seem permanently etched into my collective conscience of the West End.
But now, finally, a few days after Christmas 2015 I am poised to see this legend of a West End show, the 4th longest running show in its history, in a shiny new revival at the Palladium.
First impressions first, this is the palladium as I have never seen it before! There is something delightfully rebellious about the way the set, largely built from old scaffolding and brightly coloured piles of rubbish, snakes its way off the stage and over the rococo décor of one of London’s most decadently gilded theatres. Sure enough, the ragtag mob of cats that take to the stage minutes later don’t wast time in making the theatre their own, descending and ascending from the front, the back, and all levels of the theatre, in waves of lycra and faux fur. It gives me joy to see the 80s legwarmers have made it into the revival! And although my Mum is tittering about the original revolving stage, which funnily enough couldn’t be accommodated here, the spectacle to my eyes is enough to make me grin with glee.
Each song is joyous, and delivered with about 100x the energy my (late) moggy possessed in his entire lifetime. The choreography deftly handles a stage teeming with cast, giving each cat a sense of being part of the cat collective through gestures and cat-erisms and yet creating the space fluidly when their time comes to shine in their cat-aret number.
The shift between poetry and song was an unexpected surprise for me, having only known the songs previously I hadn’t expected the treat of ‘original text’, and basked in the gently rolling rhythm of the Possum’s prose.
I don’t think is one single unique appeal about Cats, which even Andew Lloyd Webber himself admits is a slightly unexpected success story. Where the magic lies for me however, comes right down to the concept itself; cats as humans! Humans as cats! The slightly surreal spectacle of seeing cats personified, sharing on their cat-astophies but yet being celebrating for their personalities and their very existence is life affirming in a surprisingly profound way.
I left the theatre feeling I would have liked to spend some time getting to know them better, that the show just scratched the surface…