Theatre review: Cats @ Manchester Opera House

By Natasha David-Hilton

“You’ve heard of several kinds of cat, and my opinion now is that you should need no interpreter to understand our character. You’ve learned enough to take the view that cats are very much like you.”

It has won numerous awards including Best Musical at both the Laurence Olivier and the Tony Awards and is adored by millions – Cats is a show that needs little in the way of introduction.

Adapted from T.S Eliot’, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a series written for the poet’s own grandchildren, the show has captivated audiences around the world.

Set around a group of cats known as the Jellicle cats, the story begins on a special night in which one of them will get to move on to a new life after a ball where the lucky cat will be chosen.

The majority of the show is spent introducing the cats individually and showcasing their personalities and traits. This gives a nice opportunity to paint portraits of their characters – yet (at the risk of appalling Cats fans everywhere) inevitably becomes formulaic after a while.

The famous ‘junk yard’ set design was adapted beautifully for the slightly smaller Manchester Opera House and with lights reaching out over the seats set the mood instantly for the show.

The extended stage steps allowed for the Cats to wander, or even occasionally run, ‘meowing’ through the audience at any time – adding to the lively overall energy.

The dancing was simply breathtaking. And from the moment the curtain lifted to the lights turning on at the end, it didn’t stop…

Cats must be without a doubt one of the most high energy performances; the enthusiasm and commitment each performer puts into the two hours is astonishing.

The actors’ abilities to mimic their feline counterparts’ mannerisms were mesmerising and a testament to choreography that has clearly stood the test of time.

The simple costumes help to show these movements perfectly while at the same time reflecting each cats’ unique personality.

However, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s decision to stick to T.S Eliot’s original poems as faithfully as possible when it came to composing lyrics doesn’t translate so smoothly, and in some parts lost me all together.

It is easy to see why Cats has become a global phenomenon and a show that could entertain both adults and children alike, but it is also a show that continues to polarize opinions. Some may find the whole thing confusing and, dare I say it, a little barmy while other see it as a masterpiece.

Case in point: the rapturous standing ovation at the end from many – while others had left the auditorium around 20 minutes earlier.

For sheer energy alone, the show is a must-see – although keep your programme close if you don’t know the story line too well as you may get a little lost!

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