Lloyd Webber's pur-fect show

Cats, by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Theatre Royal, Norwich until Saturday April 19Cats isn't just a show, it's a phenomenon. People have it stowed away in their memories as the great West End theatre experience of their lives.

Ivan Howlett

Cats, by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Theatre Royal, Norwich until Saturday April 19

Cats isn't just a show, it's a phenomenon. People have it stowed away in their memories as the great West End theatre experience of their lives. Just think - it ran for 21 years, closed on its birthday when it was put out on a huge screen in Covent Garden for the benefit of fans who couldn't get a last night ticket.

It's now come to the region for a three-week run, and, as you might guess, it's a complete sell-out. As the show opens, the audience is beside itself with anticipation, the concentration total, the excitement electric, while reviewers brim over with the language of purr-fection.


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When it comes down to it, it's the concept - the cleverness of the idea - where the magic starts. The blend of fantasy, metaphor and good story sets it going, with ballet, spectacle, music, costume and stage design giving it its uniqueness.

For those - no doubt, few - who don't know what its about, we're on a huge rubbish dump which becomes alive after dark with the prowling, dancing, tail curdling tribe of Jellicle cats. They are meeting for the Jellicle Ball, after which one of them will be chosen by the wise paternal cat Old Deuteronomy (James Patterson) for reincarnation. The adventures involve the bids by various cats to make their reputations, the kidnapping of Old Deuteronomy by the Napoleon of Crime, Macavity, and his rescue.

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The show uses Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats poems written by TS Eliot in 1939, for its lyrics, though some elements, the story of Grizabella for instance, were found among Eliot's unpublished writings

The singing, the dancing, the sheer energy is breathtaking, and the set, which takes in much of the auditorium, astounding.

One of the well-judged features of Cats is the use of hit song, Memory, the nostalgic remembrance of Grizabella's past glories and her hopes for the future. Lloyd-Webber, who for me often overuses the reprise, uses Memory, by far the best song in the show, sparingly. It's all the more effective for that.

Cats is an ensemble concept but there are star performances - from Chrissie Hammond as Grizabella, the mysterious old Glamour cat whose singing of Memory leads to her ascendancy. Trevor Schoonraad spins and leaps, defying gravity as Mr Mistoffelees. And Rachel Ensor, Zak Nemorin, Stuart Ramsay and so many more emerge from the junkyard to delight.

Ivan Howlett

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