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Javier Cid (Macavity). Photo by Alessandro Pinna

Review: Cats at New Theatre Oxford

Cereal boxes, kicks, impish grins, pyrotechnics and explosions; Sam Bennett on Cats, residing at New Theatre Oxford until 1st October
Marianne Benedict provides one of the highlights of the show, raising neck hairs as she belts the big bit in ‘Memory’.

"Likeability achieved through impish grins and cockney accents."

I sat in the New Theatre on the 27th September watching an actor in feline getup performing in the aisle, at little more than an arm's reach away from me.

 

Strong jawline, rather sexually provocative movements, a soft yet powerful tone of voice; I diverted my gaze, but it was too late...I fancied a cat.

Perhaps this is the risk you take when watching Cats, which would prove to be one of most visually exhilarating pieces of theatre I've seen – and for plentiful reasons besides my newly formed crush. Performers playing various cats fill a comic book-like junkyard set designed by John Napier and equipped with hefty cereal boxes and other rubbish. What can be climbed is climbed, what can be opened is opened, what can be come out of is come out of.

Dances that I deemed beyond complicated are done in unison, granting me on watching them a similar pleasure to that which I get when hearing the 'You Never Give Me Your Money' melody in 'Carry That Weight', or Neil Diamond go up an octave during 'Forever in Blue Jeans' – that sensation I give up trying to articulate, in the end just calling it “that good feeling”.

Emily Langham (Rumpleteazer) and Joe Henry (Mungojerrie). Photo by Alessandro Pinna

 

"Maybe she’s taken to drugs, drink, fallen into prostitution," Marianne Benedict said of the cat she plays in the show, Grizabella, when I interviewed her not long ago. It is probably due to this that I saw the character as a wretched junkie, and I pitied her more for it, although Benedict’s face appears too fresh and smooth to be that of a downtrodden creature. In any case the performer provides one of the highlights of the show, raising neck hairs as she belts the big bit in ‘Memory’.

This is matched in the standout moment category by Joe Henry and Emily Langham cartwheeling, kicking and jumping their way through ‘Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer’ with flair and vitality – their likeability achieved through impish grins and cockney accents.

First opening at the New London Theatre over 30 years ago, Cats went through a revamp in 2014, and looks today to be utterly contemporary. The opening of the second act doesn’t have quite the same dynamism as the first half’s start, but this is resolved courtesy of Shimbleshank’s train, pyrotechnics and explosions in ‘Macavity’ and the enchanting spectacle that is ‘Mr Mistoffelees’.

So do go, and if anyone else develops an odd admiration for an aisle cat, kindly email me – it helps to know there are others out there like you.

- Sam Bennett

 

Cats is at New Theatre Oxford until 1st October.

 

Top Image - Javier Cid (Macavity). Photo by Alessandro Pinna.

Middle Image - Marianne Benedict

Bottom Image - Emily Langham (Rumpleteazer) and Joe Henry (Mungojerrie). Photo by Alessandro Pinna.

 

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