Cats can be a marmite show and the 2019 movie did little to help these polarized opinions. Cats, based on the book of poems by TS Eliot, and for those that love it say that it shows a group of cats who gather once a year at the jellicle ball to see who can cross over into another life. Love or hate the show however there is no denying that this is a huge dance show of which 95% of it is packed with choreography of varying styles. This means that even for professional companies it is a challenge but for amateur companies this show is a huge undertaking.
The first thing that struck me about Center Stage’s production of Cats was the vision that the director, James-Lee Campbell had. Rather than the typical junkyard setting it was set in a loft with a window placed center stage so the moon could shine in on the cats The concept was executed simply but immediately you were given a sense of place.
Cats is a show that, unlike most other musicals, doesn’t have a singular star of the show. Instead numerous ‘Cats’ take their moment in the spotlight but when it is not their time to be featured the are all part of the ensemble. It is therefore of upmost importance that the whole cast work together and are strong across the board. There are of course always going to be performances from individuals that stand out for many reasons. I particularly enjoyed Angus Jacobs’ Skimbleshanks and his high energy number was one of the highlights of the show. Mungojerrie, played by Jake McKerell and Rumpleteaster played by Jenny Thompson had an impressive high energy number, literally cartwheeling around the stage and bringing bundles of character with them. Finally in looking at the ensemble it showed that you didn’t always have to be a featured Cat to make an impact. Case in point was Rosie O’Rourke who played Jemima, a playful kitten. Whilst O’Rourke didn’t have any solo numbers I was unable to take my eyes off her due to her feline physicality and her face that was constantly reacting to everything happening around her.
Overall the numbers were drilled well however a small criticism is that sometimes I feel that the restricted space on stage meant that some of the dancers were unable to go ‘full out’ due to this space restriction, jumps became that little bit smaller, and arms that little less outstretched. In a space that size that is a difficult struggle to overcome and it is nitpicking on what was otherwise excellently delivered choreography. The choreography by James-Lee Campbell, Sara Ramirez and Peter Stonnell itself was inventive and it felt fresh. There is always a danger with Cats that you try to imitate the original but Center Stage wisely steered clear of this and instead came up with a fresh take which covered numerous genres of dance. There had also clearly been a focus on embodying the Cat themselves whilst dancing, or even whilst simply observing and at no moment throughout the show did I notice this physicality drop from anyone.
Cats being a musical it would be remiss of me not to mention the music itself. Of course everyone is waiting for that song…Memory and Emily Law as Grizabella sang memory beautifully and really stirred at the emotion behind the number. I also enjoyed Stephen Hewitt as Old Deuteronomy and his vocal quality was perfectly suited to the role. There were points in the bigger dance numbers that you could hear (understandably) that the cast were out of breath which in turn impacted the vocals. I noted from the program that there were 5 booth singers so it may have been wise to have a few more booth singers in order to assist in covering the fatigue from those on stage.
Center Stage also did a wonderful job in inclusivity, the cast was diverse in many regards including body size and they had also cast some of the gender blind parts which I found fascinating and a good way to embrace diversity at another level.
Center Stage’s production of Cats was a testament to show the challenges that you can rise to if you have the passion from the creative team and a talented cast willing to throw themselves into the vision. I would urge you to get tickets but as tickets sold out weeks out I will simply finish by saying that if you didn’t get a ticket you missed out on a special trip to the Jellicle Ball.
Cats is on at the Bridewell Theater until 2nd April. You can find out more and book tickets here.
If you like this review you might also like my review of School of Rock at New Wimbledon, Waitress at the Churchill Theater and The Addams Family at New Wimbledon Theatre.