As one of the longest running productions on both Broadway and the West End, Cats is one of those musicals known to both theatregoers and the not so theatre-inclined alike. As with most musicals with a big name and longevity, it is often subjected to polarising critique. Penned in 1980, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cats is based on T.S. Elliot’s ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ and allows audiences (a sometimes baffling) insight into the mystical tribe of the Jellicle cats, who are looking to decide which aged and withered cat will be granted a new life.
NOVA have taken great care in breathing a new life into a musical that many believe has somewhat outstayed its welcome on the professional circuit. Having only seen the show once before (and YouTube uploads), it came as a shock to me that NOVA had really emphasised the comedic touches to the piece. While there are typically giggle worthy moments, NOVA’s audience was in stitches several times throughout the performance, keeping them engaged throughout. The humour did work well to contrast the more solemn moments of the show. Interestingly, the company chose to release the cats into the audience during intermission, much to the delight of many of the audience members, resulting in much selfie taking. While this was a lovely sentiment, some audience members seemed to have felt a little awkward with the situation and it did absolutely shatter the fourth wall, taking the audience out of the pull of the narrative. Perhaps allowing the cast to come out in costume after the show could have provided a happy medium.
Audiences were first met with an eerie, enigmatic graveyard set which proved quite alluring compared to the typical rundown junkyard that has become synonymous with Cats and expected by audiences. The colours, while gloomy and understated, allowed for the magnificence of the Jellicle cats to really stand out. These characters have such vibrant personalities, so allowing them the opportunity to shine without distraction proved advantageous. The intricate, loud costumes and make up that were worn contrasted very well. The set took up quite a lot of the space on the stage which, from the outset, seemed as though it may have been a cause for concern due to the number of people on stage. However, for the most part, the very large cast appeared to be somewhat comfortable with the space they were afforded.
Despite the space, it was a delight to see so many strong dancers on stage. Cats is known to be a very dance heavy show – particularly to showcase the nimble and sprightly agility of the cats being portrayed. The ensemble cast were very obviously dancers first and foremost and should be exceptionally proud of their ability to commit to some very challenging choreography and vocal work. Individual technique was beautiful to watch and to their credit, each cast member was able to execute the dance requirements through the lens of their own cat character. This meant that while the ensemble numbers were not always in-sync, they were definitely elevated with character and individuality. This was also evident in the vocal stylings of each cat. Together, the ensemble sounded beautiful with strong resonating harmonies. Individually, though the vocals of each cat were not necessarily as polished or particularly strong as what one would expect in Cats, this added to the characterisation and uniqueness of each of them. With much of the show dedicated to just that – showcasing each cat’s individuality, it worked.
As silly as it sounds, I feel as though it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge how committed each cast member was to portraying their cat throughout the entire performance (and even during intermission!). While I myself found it somewhat difficult to keep up with which cat was who and their backstory when a cat was not involved in a song all about themselves, each cast member very clearly knew the mannerisms and intricacies of their cat and stuck to it, serving as a nice little recall cue to follow on to. This was quite evident in focusing on a particular member of the cast and following their movement for even just a short moment. Again, as silly as it sounds, it was very easy to see past ‘adults dressed as cats’ and actually take their feline tendencies as genuine. So well done cast – while some people may find it trivial to dress up as a cat and gallivant around on stage, you guys committed with no apologies and it paid off
There are far too many cats to detail each performance but as an ensemble, the cast worked exceptionally well together as a cohesive group. In saying this, I must note the performance of Lauren Holcombe as ‘Jemima’ whose vocals and dance technique were very well received. Her performance of ‘Memory (reprise)’ with Lauren Page as ‘Grizabella’ a true highlight. Page’s ‘Memory’ beautiful as well. ‘Memory’ is one of those theatre staples and the audience definitely appreciated that it was done justice. Ju-Han Soon was another crowd favourite with his totally infectious energy as ‘Rum Tum Tugger’. He was a joy to watch during the ensemble pieces as well due to the very sharp and confident movement execution
NOVA’s Cats definitely has something to offer theatregoers and non-theatregoers alike. Colour, outrageous make up, big dance numbers and beautiful ensemble harmonies. Due to Cats being one of those truly iconic musical theatre pieces, it is definitely worth a watch, even if not for anything else but to tick it off your theatre bucket list.