IT is hard to believe it is over 30 years since I first saw Cats in 1982 in its New London Theatre home, where War Horse now resides, and today it was time to see just how this piece of theatre history is standing up to the test of time. The last London cast I saw, in 2000, was tiring a little, having lost some of its original energy, and was near the end of its exactly 21 year run. What had begun as a challenge to the genre, with long dance sequences, hardly any narrative, and a band hidden from the action, so far hidden that early audiences refused to stop clapping until the conductor appeared for acknowledgment, had slowly slipped into a tourist attraction, to be seen along with The Mousetrap as part of a day in London.
How thrilling then to see the energy in this young touring cast, each of them living and breathing a feline life, with twitches, twists and turns convincing us that we were part of a secret meeting of cats. Every single member of the company was every inch a cat for every second of the show, including visits to the auditorium to get up close and personal with us, a lovely touch, linking back to the original production.
Singing is strong and accurate, with wonderful characterisation, particularly from Paul F Managhan as both Bustopher Jones and (Aspara)Gus, the theatre cat whose broken and shaking reminiscences come to life when he relives one of his finest parts as Growltiger.
Grizabella, the aging Glamour Cat originally played by Elaine Paige in the West End, is given new meaning and pathos by Sophia Ragavelas, realistically portraying a very old cat, struggling even to make her way across the stage, and with an astonishing control of power in her voice that drew long applause at the end of Memory, a song which suddenly makes sense when heard in context, in a similar way to Send in the Clowns in A Little Night Music.
Nicholas Pound has a wonderful speaking and singing voice, and rules the stage as Old Deuteronomy; featured dance from Joseph Poulton as Mistoffelees and Quaxo seemed effortless, as did routines by those playing Skimbleshanks, Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer.
Where this show really works, however, is in the amazing ensemble, with so many different song and dance styles, and every character slipping back into the ensemble after their moment in the spotlight. This is a production which has regained the energy of Gillian Lynne and Trevor Nunn’s original cast, and is well worth catching – at the Hippodrome until Saturday 26th October.
Wednesday 16th October 2013