24-29 October 2016
Reviewed by Louise Styles
Before tonight the only things I knew about CATS the musical were that it was indeed about cats and that its music was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber. I’m not entirely sure what I expected from the show but it was a constant stream of dance and music which made the production go by in a flash.
The original show began in 1981 in London and now 35 years later continues to entertain on its country wide tour. It is currently residing at the Milton Keynes Theatre from 24th-29th October. The theatre staff were very pleasant, the venue itself was clean and there were not extensive queues for the bar, toilets or kiosks – always a good thing. Parking at this venue is great, there is a multi-storey just adjacent to the theatre and car parks on the surrounding roads making it a very accessible location.
The stage is set as a junkyard filled with items and lights. The synopsis of the show is based around a world of cats who have gathered for their annual Jellicle Ball. Throughout the show we are introduced to the individual characters and their special traits, from the large Bustopher Jones to the cheeky duo Mungojerrie & Rumpleteazer. What amazed me most about the whole performance is that it is in effect one continuous dance routine. The ‘cats’ slink and slide throughout each number and have all the qualities of real cats. Aside from the few individual numbers there are a lot of group dances meaning there were over 20 dancers on stage at some points all completely in synch with each other, to my eye anyway, and all perfectly spaced. It really did look fantastic to see the entire stage filled in such a way. The stamina of these actors really is something as the musical is slightly longer than other shows I have seen recently. In addition to this their level of flexibility and acrobatics was second to none, clearly they rehearse extremely hard – and it shows on stage.
As the story progresses, we meet Grizabella, the glamour cat, a former tribe member who left to pursue her own life but has now returned, older and not quite so glamorous. Grizabella, played by Marianne Benedict, gave a truly magnificent rendition of ‘Memories’ towards the end of the 2nd act. It was a wow moment for the audience who really did go wild with applause as she finished. The famous song was sung a verse at a time throughout the show culminating with Marianne’s emphatic lines.
The musical was very audience focused and the actors began the show walking through the aisles and climbing up onto the stage, this was a feature throughout and quite a few times we saw characters enter and exit this way as well as being part of the staging during some larger numbers. The opening is also a dialogue with the audience whereby the cats enlighten and discuss the meaning of Jellicle cats as well as what keeps them in such deep thought. The interaction makes it more than just a sit down and watch show. I am really glad I can now tick CATS off my ‘to do list’ – another great night at Milton Keynes Theatre.
Tickets cost from £15 to £50.50 (plus £2.85 transaction fee).
CATS is at Milton Keynes Theatre until 29 October 2016. For more information or to book tickets click here or call the box office on 0844 8717652.
Milton Keynes Theatre, 500 Marlborough Gate, Milton Keynes, Bucks, MK9 3NZ