Wednesday night saw my parents and I preparing to attend the opening night of Cats at the Theatre Royal, Norwich. I’d been pretty ok about the whole thing until I was halfway through my scrummy Ask, Insalata di Pollo e Pancetta. Then, the excitement hit me. I started fidgeting, I may have hyperventilated slightly, I could barely finish my main and shoveled in my honeycomb cheesecake desert in the sudden excited rush to get to the Theatre on time. I even had my coat on the moment the last spoonful of cheesecake hit my tounge.
I may have actually skipped to the theatre, much to my parent’s amusement, and slight concern. Not so much because I’m 36 and skipping down the street, but because my excitement might turn out to be misplaced. When I was about 10 mum and dad had taken me and my sister (then 6) to see Cats at The New London Theatre, its permanent West End home until 2002. We’d had balcony seats overlooking the stage in a theatre that had been specially converted into the junk yard playground for the Cats. Dad was concerned that the tour might not match up.
You see, the problem with a tour is not having a home which has been chosen with the performance in mind. Most of the theatres will be old fashioned proscenium arch set ups which limit the action in a different way, compared to being partially in the round, which is how it was in the West End. Would the Theatre Royal do Cats justice or would it stifle the performance? If the latter then, being as I was so excited that “I might even be sick”, there was potential for huge disappointment. To make matters worse, on arriving at the theatre I insisted, if nobody needed the loo, we make out way to our seats, just in case. The moment of truth was approaching, would The Theatre Royal match up to my expectations?
On entering the auditorium, the first thing you notice is the stage, curtain up to show off the junk yard. The full moon presides over centre stage while stars twinkle in the backdrop. It looked exactly as I remembered it should. Amongst the assorted trash there was a bit of a bed, a tyre, the trunk of a car and rubbish all along the front of the stage. Once the lights went down and the overture began, the cats began moving through the auditorium interacting with audience members at the end of the row. I flapped and bounced in my seat, this was it!
By the time the whole company was on stage ready for the opening number – Jellicle songs for Jellicle Cats – I was happily lost in the moment. The performance was, as far as memory served, easily on a par. Not once did I feel the difference in staging was detrimental to the magic. Although certain aspects were changed – Macavity’s multiple entrances for example or the route to the Heaviside Layer – they still worked just as well. The Theatre Royal made a perfectly good temporary home for the musical and the touring company delivered the material excellently. Special mention has to go to Joanna Ampil for her portrayal of Grizabella and astounding rendition of Memory. I used to have the tape of the original cast recording and I have to say the raw emotion in Ampil’s performance was above and beyond that of Elaine Page’s. I loved the affected attitude of Ben Palmer’s Munkustrap. The Rum Tum Tugger, played by Filippo Strocchi (note – Strocchi is named in the programme but the role was actually played by Richard Astbury – thanks to ‘Dave’ for the heads up!) was utterly captivating, while Benjamin Yates and Dawn Williams as Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser demonstrated some fantastic acrobatic skills and Clare Rickard put in a highly comic performance as Griddlebone in the Ballad of Billy M’Caw. Finally, Cassie Clare whose Cassandra was such a perfectly graceful, beatiful feline that I often found my eye drawn to her in the ensemble numbers. All in all, the whole company performed as if this was THE performance, not just another opening night on yet another tour.
In summary, it was fantastic. The theatre, the company, the whole thing. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see Cats the Musical, at any point in the last 30 odd years, do. It’s one of the greatest musicals ever written, easily one of my favourites (the other two are also Lloyd-Webber creations, that man certainly knows how to write good!) and entertaining whether you’re 9 or 90.