Cats: On the prowl in a strange subculture

The Lloyd Webber musical is best embraced with a child’s willingness to accept the stunning weirdness of this feline underworld

Terrific ensemble piece: Susan McFadden, Oliver Savile, Alicia Beck and Paul Monaghan in  Cats. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Terrific ensemble piece: Susan McFadden, Oliver Savile, Alicia Beck and Paul Monaghan in Cats. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Mon, Aug 26, 2013, 14:20

Cats
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin
****

Cats is a curious beast; a musical almost entirely devoid of plot. Based on TS Eliot’s verses for children, it is a faithful presentation of the feline personalities collected in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, with little but the beasts’ shared physical attributes and Eliot’s distinct anthropomorphic humour to draw the portraits together. However, “it is enough to take the view, That cats are very much like you,” with their own myths, their own gods and devils.

Cats is a terrific ensemble piece, and because of the almost formal presentation of Eliot’s poems – there is barely any additional material used in the densely packed musical – nearly all members of the company get an opportunity to showcase their talents as the audience are presented with the different cats that populate this strange subculture.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s restless score, meanwhile, helps to distinguish one tabby from the next tomcat. There could be no mistaking lothario Rum Tum Tugger’s deep Elvis growl (a show-stealing Oliver Saville) from the near-cabaret caterwaul of slinky duo Mungojerry and Rumpleteazer (Baranaby Thompson and Katie Warsop). Indeed if anything gives a narrative arc to Eliot’s curio, it is the score, with its tonal counterpoints, cathartic flow, and, of course, the inclusion of the show’s most memorable song, the melancholic Memory, whose lyrics and spirit are salvaged from a variety of Eliot’s other poems, including the Prufrock cycle. Delivered in this production by Susan McFadden, whose Grizabella stalks the edges of John Napier’s rubbish-dump set, Memory is crucial to the musical: it creates an emotional subtext amid all the whimsy.

This is a lavish tribute to the original 1981 production, recreated here by director Chrissie Cartwright. Gillian Lynne’s choreography gives the cats no chance to rest; every interlude is a flurry of prowling elegance.

Eliot’s poems were originally written for his godchildren, and Cats is best embraced with a child’s willingness to accept the stunning weirdness of this feline underworld and the patchwork score. It offers a unique vision of the world that a child will never forget.
Until September 7