Andrew Lloyd Webber’s record-breaking 2015 Olivier award nominated musical Cats returns to the Edinburgh Playhouse direct from its sell-out seasons at the London Palladium for one week only.
I was lucky enough to see the original show in 1981, when it launched at the New London Theatre with a stellar cast including Bonnie Langford, Paul Nicholas, Brian Blessed, Wayne Sleep and Elaine Paige. It transfixed me then, grabbing me in its magical claws, but for a show that is now 35 years old, could it do the same again?
The answer is absolutely yes. With live music from an unseen orchestra, a fabulous oversized rubbish dump set that works as well in a proscenium arch as it did in the original “in the round” setting, and fabulous lyrics and dancing, what’s not to like? And the audience still gets to mingle with the cats, which adds to the magic.
Based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Cats first returned to the West End in December 2014 reuniting the original creative team – Director Trevor Nunn, Associate Director John Napier and Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.
When Lloyd Webber created Cats, he completely reversed his usual method of working. With great affection for the T.S. Eliot poems with their “frequently irregular and exciting metre”, Lloyd Webber, instead of collaborating with lyricists and having them write words to his music, composed the music to the already existing lyrics.
It’s a simple tale. For just one special night of the year, all Jellicle cats meet at the Jellicle Ball when Old Deuteronomy, their wise and benevolent leader, makes the Jellicle choice and announces which of them will go up to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn in to a whole new Jellicle Life.
The music stands the test of time, as does the choreography. Probably the most unusual aspect of the show is the fact that Cats is a show that is “danced through”, an almost uninterrupted dance sequence that demands stamina as the cast dance and sing the entire way through.
There’s no-one star or celebrity name, like London had, but it doesn’t matter; they are all stars.
This talented cast work as “a tribe”, exuding energy and fitness levels many of us can only dream of, whilst emulating the characteristics of the individual personalities of the cats that T.S. Eliot caught so well. There’s Jennyanydot, the Old Gumbie Cat, who sleeps and lounges all day long, to the Rum Tum Tugger, a playful prankster that the female cats find extremely attractive, to Grizabella, the Glamour Cat, who is shunned by the rest of the tribe despite being a Jellicle Cat.
Much of choreographer Gillian Lynne‘s early moves and work still remain but they have moved with the times to reflect the show’s reliance on dance, keeping the story alive.
In the original production, Eliot’s Rum Tum Tugger, perverse and wilful, satirised the kind of bad boy that crops up in every generation. Back in the early 80s, Lloyd Webber characterised him musically as a rock ‘n’ roller, with Elvis Presley influences, with the role played by Paul Nicholas.
As music has changed, so the Tugger (Marcquelle Ward) has moved with the times and has become a bad boy of now, rapping and break dancing. It works, and certainly appeals to this generation, but it’s hard to forget a nostalgic love for the original.
John Napier’s rubbish dump set is as fresh and relevant now as it was back in the 80s and the lighting design from David Hersey and Howard Eaton really adds to the delight of this show, playing out the cats’ eyes and the eeriness of the characters.
This show has it all, including great nostalgia, and immediate excitement for something that has been brought up to date while not compromising on the creators’ original intentions. It feels as revolutionary now as it was in 1981. Don’t miss it.