Cats coming to Oxford
"It sounds crazy, like it shouldn’t work, but it does."
Based on T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Cats the Musical comes to the New Theatre Oxford for one week only from 27th September- 1st October.
Originally from Abingdon, Marianne Benedict has the daunting task of playing Grizabella, we caught up with her to discuss pressure and how to relate to a cat.
Cats is so embedded in the musical theatre world, do you think that can make people scared to experiment with it and do something different?
I think that was probably overcome when they relaunched it at the Palladium two years ago – that’s the show we’re touring at the moment. That did come from the top; Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Gillian Lynne, Trevor Nunn, they were all involved. An opera section was added, a tap dancing section was added, there were subtle changes here and there. One of the main changes was the Rum Tum Tugger cat – he was brought right up to date.
It’s trying to appeal more to a fresh audience, to say this isn’t just something for people to reminisce days gone by, this is also relevant now. I think it was quite a brave move of them actually, to mess about with something so popular and iconic, but it’s worked.
Because of Cats’ longevity and because it’s so loved, is there more pressure on you to deliver than on other shows?
Yes, definitely. When it’s a new show people don’t know what to expect. You’re creating something new, something fresh, they can’t compare to other versions; whereas I have to go out there every night and sing ‘Memory’. Quite a few wonderful vocalists have covered that song – Elaine Paige, Celine Dion, Barbara Streisand, everyone’s done it. So I do feel the pressure. But it’s also a real honour to have been cast in this role and chosen to sing that song every night. I absolutely love singing it; as an actress and a singer it’s a real gift of a song.
150 artists have recorded ‘Memory’; are there any in particular that you’ve used for inspiration?
I’ve listened to many versions of ‘Memory’ over the years, some exceptional recordings and performances. But because it’s also an acting piece I’ve tried to not be too heavily influenced by the way that other people have sung it and, as much as I can, put my own stamp on it, and sing the song as Grizabella in that moment in her story. She’s begging for forgiveness and acceptance. If you get that truth and that story through in the song, that’s when the audience go with you and that’s when they’re touched and moved by the music and the words. So I’ve just tried to come at it from the acting point of view rather than copying the way someone else has done it.
Isn’t it quite hard to relate to a cat?
We attach human personalities to all of the cats. So Grizabella, for example, has gone down the wrong path. If we were to put her in human terms she’s got in with the wrong crowd, maybe she’s taken to drugs, drink, fallen into prostitution, been beaten – if you’re going to get serious with it. You can relate to characters that have been through that kind of thing and characters who then ask to be accepted back into their family or their friendship group.
Then there’s the two cheeky cats who go around steeling things, little naughty children who steal from the table. There’s the big old fat cat who loves a good meal – he’s very posh and pompous. Each cat is given human traits and human qualities, and it all comes from TS Eliot’s book.
We learn how to move in a feline way and the costumes are all very feline. But there are elements we can all relate to as humans. It sounds crazy, like it shouldn’t work, but it does.
Have you ever done a musical that you thought you hated and then you did it and ended up loving it?
I got a role in Dirty Dancing. I went to see it and I didn’t enjoy it. I thought: ‘what have I signed up for?’ Then when I joined the cast I had the best year. I made amazing friends and I had so much fun on stage every night. I really surprised myself. You might think ‘I haven’t got a great song; I haven’t got loads of lines’ – whatever. But you make the absolute best out of the songs and lines you have got and turn them into little golden nuggets.
Are there any musicals from recent times that you think could be around for as long as Cats?
Shows like Wicked are very quickly joining the realms of those long running musicals, I know Hamilton is an absolute sell-out of Broadway, there’s The Book of Mormon; they’re all becoming these long running productions. I think it’s rare for things to be around as long as Les Mis, Phantom and Cats. But it does and can happen. It’s obviously about quality writing and also it’s about it being the right moment in time, with the right people in the right theatre – and then magic can happen. There’s a bit of luck involved as well as talent.
Tickets for Cats are available here.
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