Cats ~ New Wimbledon Theatre, London

Cats stays at New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday 12 November, before going on a European tour:

Star Rating *****

What I particularly love about this musical is that the scene is set before the music starts, it’s a set that I feel I could get lost in and it doesn’t stop on stage, either. Almost the entire auditorium is used for this piece, lights are rigged up and around the boxes and the cats themselves frequently mingle in among the audience. Seeing the cats up close is a fascinating sight and the intricacy of the make-up is incredible.

Gillian Lynne’s original choreography is still a joy to behold, every dancer in the cast possesses amazing control and the ability to somersault in such a graceful way that would rival any cat. The score is one of Lloyd Webber’s most instantly recognisable, with memory being the pinnacle moment. Each cat’s tale is told through performances by a tremendously talented ensemble of triple threats, building towards the moment that a cat is chosen to be re-born. It’s spell-binding, bewitching and a stunning piece of theatre which never gets old, in my humble opinion. Plus, to keep the story and choreography moving with the times, The Rum Tum Tugger has become a street dancer as opposed to a rocker. Not only a genius idea, but terrific casting in the form of Marcquelle Ward who swaggered, strutted and rapped!

Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer (Joe Henry and Emily Langham)

In Jellicle Cats, my eyes were everywhere, from Josh Andrews bursting onto the scene as Alonzo, to Aaron Hunt commanding my attention as Bill Bailey. I was also transfixed by Sophia McAvoy as Victoria aka the White Cat, not only a glorious dancer, but she used facial expressions to define skittish tendencies that many cats have. Helen Turner as Demeter and Megan Armstrong as Bombalurina were a force to be reckoned with during their rendition of Macavity and were among some of the strongest vocalists. I love Jennyanydots, she is a fabulous character and Lucinda Shaw made for the perfect whacky and quirky gumbie cat. The spectacular display of tap dancing which accompanied that number was one of the highlights for me. When asked to name my favourite cats, the pair that have stayed with me since my childhood when I first encountered this musical, are Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. Joe Henry and Emily Langham played the cheeky scamps in synch as they sneaked around the stage, gambolling and cartwheeling. Old Deuteronomy was an imposing and gentle presence with excellent vocal ability, Kevin Stephen-Jones should be commended on playing the lynchpin character with reliability and majesty. Shiv Rabheru was a spunky and dapper Mr Mistoffelees, pirouettes aplenty were pulled off in spectacular fashion. Bustopher Jones, Asparagus and ultimately, Growltiger are played by one and the same actor, typically, and this production held no exception. Greg Castigliori was elegantly bonkers as Bustopher and deliciously dithering as Asapragus the theatre cat and swashbuckling as Growltiger, an outstanding all-rounder.

Mariannne Benedict as Grizabella

The spotlight is always on Grizabella with Memory being so associated with the show, Marianne Benedict’s work was already familiar to me as I had seen her play the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. On that occasion she was lowered through the roof of the London Palladium, on this occasion she was going in the opposite direction! Benedict was a sensational Grizabella, the pain of the character etched on her face and stumbling around the stage with precision. I was more than ready for her to astound me with Memory, I wasn’t prepared for her to blow me away. The enchanting tone of her stunning vocals drew me forwards in my seat, the crescendo knocked me backwards!

Overall, a memorable evening at the theatre which showcased a bevvy of talented individuals, who also performed spectacularly as an ensemble. Bravo!



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