Nick Winston’s new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical at Kilworth House Theatre delivers on every level: this is ‘Cats’ as you’ve never seen it before. Fresh, playful and impeccably performed.
T S Eliot’s ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’, upon which the show is based, was published in 1939. Fitting then, that Philip Witcomb’s set design beautifully evokes wartime London. We are thrust into the murky world of a dilapidated underground station with a derailed tube carriage centre stage, around which the cats slink and slide. It’s a stunning backdrop to the expertly choreographed dance routines which are performed with energy and precision throughout.
The personalities of the different cats are more distinct than in previous productions I’ve seen, helped by wonderful costume design (Philip Witcomb, again). In place of the more traditional leotards, we have a host of characters including a woolly tank-topped schoolboy, a milkman, an engine driver, a neckerchiefed scout and a wing commander. The effect is to create a real sense of a ‘cat community’ – these felines are pulling together in a time of national crisis. The storytelling is strong in what is often described as a ‘plotless’ show.
Emma Hatton cuts a sorrowful figure as the dejected Grizabella, almost ghost-like in the way she limps on and off stage. Her pitch-perfect performance of ‘Memory’ is moving and devastating. Adrian Grove’s ageing theatre cat, Gus, is equally moving in his Act II number, his hand shaking uncontrollably due to palsy and his voice painfully capturing the regret of a stage career over.
Old Deuteronomy, played with warmth and wit by Jeremy Secomb, is a perfect paternal warden figure overseeing the Jellicle Ball. Other standout performances in an ensemble who all excel, include Oliver Ormson’s delightfully cheeky Rum Tum Tugger and Robbie McMillan’s truly ‘Magical’ Mister Mistoffelees. Under Francis Goodhand’s musical direction, this is a production guaranteed to please.
A slick, sexy ‘Cats’ which fits beautifully in the stunning grounds of Kilworth House. This theatre really is a hidden gem. West End performances at a fraction of the price. If you can’t wait for the release of the new film adaptation in December, book now.
‘Cats’ is playing at Kilworth House Theatre until Sunday 8th September.