Interview: Stockport actress Melissa James talks extreme make-up and ‘catty’ co-stars ahead of Cats UK tour

By Danielle Wainwright

The Jellicle cats are set to slink into Manchester next month for Andrew Lloyd’s musical phenomenon Cats following a five-year hiatus from the UK stage. 

Such is the popularity of the show that since its opening back in 1981, the musical has been performed in more than 20 countries in around 250 cities.

As the show comes to Manchester in April, MM caught up with Stockport actress Melissa James, who plays feisty feline Bombalurina, as she dons her tail and whiskers to prepare for another purrfect performance.

She said: “The show has been great, it was put on very quickly and we only had three weeks of rehearsals. We worked hard and had a very busy tech week; we were sometimes working 10 hours a day.

“The opening night was fantastic we had such a good response from the audience and the Edinburgh Play House was amazing.”

The cast have now perfected their performances and after brushing aside the nerves experienced during the first few nights, Melissa can now look forward to bringing the show to her home town of Manchester.

“I can’t wait to get home! We can all have a life after the show. I can go home and see my mum after the shows to have a nice meal. I love Manchester and I feel that I want to do my home town proud,” she said.

Before taking on Cats, the newly-graduated actress made her debut performance in musical favourite  West Side Story.

She said: “West Side story was quite different to Cats, it was very energetic with lots of dancing whereas Cats is entirely sung and all expressions have to be performed through our bodies.

“We wore very dramatic make up so all facial expressions had to be exaggerated and over the top so that the audience could see.

“We regularly did cat work – teaching us to move and act the way a cat does. It’s funny because I had to forget that I was a human and on stage turn myself into a cat!”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

To Melissa part of the fun of performing Cats is the wide range of outfits, and with only a quick rehearsal on applying their own makeup, the cast had to learn that playing dress-up was crucial to getting into character.

She said: “I love the costumes and make up. We had a rehearsal for applying the makeup and they painted half your face and you had to match it.

“The first time I attempted this, it took me an hour and 15 minutes, but I’m much faster now.

“My outfit is a tight Lycra cat-suit with leg warmers and huge fake eyelashes – I was worried about any bumps showing through the costume but surprisingly they are very flattering.”

Based on T.S. Elliot’s book Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the show has proved popular with worldwide audiences and was turned into a feature length film in 1998.

The first show opened in 1981 at London’s West End and stars Elaine Page and Brian Blessed graced the stage to play the philosophical characters of Grizabella and Old Deuteronomy.

Cats has changed little over the years and Melissa admitted that the responsibility of performing in this feline phenomenon were enormous.

“I was very scared until I walked into rehearsals, then you realise that everyone is in the same boat and you are not on your own – the cast are so supportive.

The UK tour ends in July but the legacy of Cats will continue across the globe as tours in America, Germany China and Japan are set to perform to sell-out audiences.

It’s clear that Melissa is delighted to become part of musical history by performing in a show that fans will cherish for many years to come.

She said: “I had seen Cats on dvd and never thought that I would be performing it one day – I am really happy to be part of it.”

To get your paws on tickets for the UK tour visit

Pictures courtesy of Alessandro Pinna, with thanks

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