Cats – Local Secrets Review – “Purrfect Spine Tingling Performances”

Those Jellicle Cats were on top feline form in this stylish mew-sical, set in a 1930s nightclub, and, wisely, not a furry unitard in sight!

The feline Festival Players made a good job of what is a challenging musical to stage and perform, written by Lloyd-Webber and first performed in 1981. CATS is based on a set of poems by T.S. Elliot, ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’, and Lloyd Webber was only allowed (by the Elliot estate) to use the poems in their original form. While a couple of songs, notably the much-covered ‘Memory’, were specially written for it, the musical is really a collection of poems put to music and dance routines, with a very tenuous plot, largely performed by the ensemble. The plot is that the Jellicle Cats assemble for the Jellicle Ball once a year, where their leader, Old Deuteronomy, will choose one of their number to ascend to the Heaviside Layer.

This version started with the Cats coming down through the audience during the overture and launching into ‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’, which explains to the audience what’s going to happen. With spitting, hissing, purring and preening, there was no doubt that we were in cat territory.

The costuming was great, colourful and original as the company and, in particular Director Suzanne Emerson, had to re-imagine the staging, since the licence forbids copying the iconic original version. Using 30s style dresses and suits for the male cats, with stunning cat make up, the cast were ready to sing and dance their tails off. The set was a speakeasy club, with bar, second storey and was used well in many of the numbers, with cats climbing on the bar and lounging on the balcony.

So, everything in this musical is a challenge, including for the audience trying to work out what’s going on if they are not familiar with the show, and for reviewers, who can’t talk much about the plot, the acting or the leads and have over twenty musical numbers to discuss.

Act 1 started well with the first number, but subsequently the sound volume seemed quite low, especially with over twenty people on stage, and it was hard to pick out words – we’re assuming this was a technical hitch as the harmonies were good.

There were a couple of strong numbers that stood out: ‘Mongojerrie and Rumpleteaser’ was a great routine, performed excellently by two high energy felines, Stephanie Swan and Laurie-Lee McDowell, who continued to stand out throughout. The ‘Song of the Jellicles and the Jellicle Ball’ really raised the energy levels and it was easy to pick this out as Chris Cuming’s distinctive choreography.

There were different choreographers for various numbers, the very nature of CATS makes it possible to do this, but the jury is out on whether it’s a good idea – with the style changing in each set it emphasises even more that this is a number of separate routines brought together.

Act 2 kept at the energy levels of the Jellicle Ball and felt much more like it had a ‘real’ storyline. It’s hard to know where to begin since there were so many outstanding performers and numbers.

The nautical set was amazing – great choreography and performances all round, and great costuming for the sea, props were perfect. All the soloists were categorically good singers, especially Georgia Derbyshire and Skimbleshanks, sung superbly by Rosie Wells in another lively number.

Top work by Sarah Monkman as Macavity, superb dancing, agility and cattitude (and her unnamed double!) with choreography by Kirsty Smith, and a brilliant set all round. This was followed by Magical Mr Mistoffelees, played with aplomb by Kristian Turner, with some suitably sparkling magical tricks, followed by the full rendition of Memory. Singing the song we all know, was Cat Nicol as Grizabella. Cat’s vocals in this were spine-tingling, and she stayed firmly in character as the downtrodden Grizabella (several professionals have been criticized for not being able to do this!) as she ascends what looks like a tricky catwalk to the Heaviside Layer. And finally, we had a wonderful song by Old Deuteronomy, Alan Hay, majestic throughout and purrfect rendition of ‘The Ad-Dressing of Cats’.

Overall an evening of categorically strong performances in this unusual mewsical playing at the Mumford Theatre until 16th June.

“The Cat’s Meow” – Great performances in a sinuous and stealthy production – NODA review

NODA Review
CATS

Performed by Festival Players at the Mumford Theatre
Directed by Suzanne Emerson

I first saw the Andrew Lloyd Webber masterpiece ‘Cats’ in London sometime in the 1980s, and
whilst you would think this would be a huge advantage for me as the show can be difficult to
follow, it wasn’t really as I couldn’t remember too much about it at this distance in time.
A show about cats doesn’t appeal to everyone and the musical ‘Cats’ is a complex piece of work
which needs a skillful director to bring out the seemingly unlinked story. The programme gave a
couple of brief bits of information but it is left to the performers to make their own impression
and tell their own tale. In movement and song this cast created characters and situations with aplomb, stealthily and sinuously populating the varied levels of the set which depicted a run down 1930s “Speakeasy” .

The lighting (John Moore & Martha Gregg) enhanced every story. We were observers at the
Jellicle Ball and we were treated to great lighting, different for every cat’s tale.
The musicians under the baton of Musical Director Joe Griffiths were excellent. This is not an
easy score having many different styles but they took it all in their stride.

The choreography was shared between Andrea Birdwood, Chris Cuming, Emma Olley, Jenny
Lewis, Kathie Pugh, Kirsty Smith, Matt Hawksworth, Rosie Wells and Suzanne Emerson. Given the amount of dance required this was a splendid idea which managed to create balance, enthusiasm and interest with this energetic cast, never detracting from the fact that they were nearly always singing whilst dancing. The exception to this was the Jellicle Ball and this was extremely well performed, the cast could move without the worry of song and it was a spectacle.

The costumes were practical and colourful and looked great. The makeup was extremely good.

The Ensemble were just that, they moved and sang as a company should, creating atmosphere
and drama not just to support the principal characters, but as an entity of its own. Don’t ever
believe that being in the chorus means you are not seen. This ensemble worked their socks off
there was hardly a moment when nothing was happening.

This was essentially a company show with the principal ‘cats’ stepping forward to present their
stories. There were stand-out performances from Rosie Wells (Skimbleshanks), the acrobatic
Mungo Jerry and Rumpleteaser (Stephanie Swan and Laurie-Lee McDowell), the thieving Macavity (Sarah Monkman) and the amazing Mr Mistoffolees (Kristian Turner). Playing a lonely,
downhearted outcast can never be easy, but Cat Nicol’s Grizabella was excellent. ‘Memory’ is
such a difficult song to sing. There were some excellent voices and so many great characterisations in this cast and it is impossible to mention everyone, suffice to say there were
no passengers in this production, this was essentially a large team enjoying every moment.

Congratulations to director Suzanne Emerson for the vision and execution of this difficult
musical. With an enthusiastic company combined with an expert orchestra, interesting
choreography, practical set and creative lighting this show was the Cat’s “meow”

Julie Petrucci
Regional Representative NODA East District Four South

Touring Show call for Directors and MDs

Do you have a theme, concept or vision of how to present our 2019 Touring Show?
No matter what your previous experience, we’d like to invite you for a chat about your ideas.
We are particularly keen to encourage new or relative novice director/MDs to think about taking on this fun and rewarding challenge!
Interested? Just contact Warren via secretary@festivalplayers.org in the first instance.
For an idea of how the touring show is organised, see details of our 2017 show here

 

CATS Cast Announced!

We’re delighted to announce the team that will bring the Cambridge premiere of CATS to the Mumford Theatre in June 2018! The production team had a hugely difficult task in casting from a really high quality set of candidates across the board, and we would like to thank everyone who auditioned for the time and effort they put in.

Alan Hay

Andrea Birdwood

Cat Nicol

Daisy Gill

Damion Box

Daniel Hunwick

Georgia Derbyshire

James Hayward

Janice Chambers

Jen Webster

Jenny Lewis

Jess Irving

Kaat De Backer

Karen Turner

Kathy Bullock

Kristian Turner

Laura Dilloway

Laurie-Lee McDowell

Lucy Farrow

Magda Zun

Mandy Jeffery

Mike Webster

Oliver Fisher

Paulina Levin-Ander

Roger Wood

Rosie Wells

Sarah Monkman

Stephanie Swan

 

Congratulation to our fantastic cast – get ready – rehearsals start in the first week of March!