An amateur production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats? Well, that’s rather a big theatrical challenge one would think. The performers need to be excellent dancers and the singing has to be the opposite end of a caterwaul. Just like a fur ball – it could go one way or the other. It could be catastrophically the biggest cat poop to hit the theatrical litter tray or leave the expectant audiences at Loughborough Town Hall purring for more and feline good.
Thankfully, there aren’t any irritating fleas nor a meow out of place on this categorically brilliant amateur production of Cats by Christchurch Theatre Club. It is currently sliding its collective- all singing – all dancing paws onto the stage at Loughborough Town Hall from 25- 30 January 2016 and is sold out. Choreographed and directed by Michael Gamble, with the talents of Musical Director Vicki Hing and her musicians, this show is as playful and as much fun as a bunch of charming kittens let loose with a colourful, dancing and singing, ball of wool.
Based on TS Eliot’s whimsical poetry Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats Lloyd Webber’s original 1981 musical production of Cats set a new benchmark for success in musical theatre by starting in London and moving to Broadway – not the other way round. Director Trevor Nunn helped to shape the show and the original Cats choreography won Outstanding Achievement of the Year in a Musical for Gillian Lynne. Like many West End musical hits it was produced by the visionary Sir Cameron Macintosh. Designer John Napier also won awards for his costume and set designs. The original London production ran for an incredible twenty-one years. Cats has performed all over the world and has been recently revived at the Palladium in London and gained some small criticism from a few critics who were against Rum Tum Tugger’s Rock & Roll song being turned into a rap.
Christchurch Theatre Club are the very first adult amateur theatre group to have the special permission and licence to perform the show and this honour comes with its own clauses. They aren’t allowed to use the show’s very famous logo, nor any choreographic ideas from any professional production of Cats at all. Neither could they copy the famous set or costume designs. Christchurch Theatre Club must certainly like setting themselves some real challenges because they are not working with trained professional dancers but with gifted non-professionals. Very gifted non-professionals. This show is an outright triumph. Even the souvenir programme is of very high standard and chock full of pictures of the show, the resumes of the cast and creatives, some history of Cats and two pages about how they made the popular show unique for them and the audiences.
All ones favourite Cats characters are expertly brought to life by the performers. This production of Cats boasts a total cast of twenty-five talented performers, each showing off their distinctive feline personality. There is not a single weak link. Carl Unwin blusters comically as Bustopher Jones, Lucy Gamble makes a poignant Grizabella, Anita Benson shines as gentle bossy boots cat Jennyanydots, Benjamin Hardy as Rum Tum Tugger proves undoubtedly, through his strong singing and confident strut, that you don’t need to rap to reach a young audience and Craig Butterworth dazzles as the magical Mr Mistoffelees. In a show that is full of musically amusing and moving sections with memorable cat characters – the naughty thieving cat duo Mungojerry and Rumpleteazer ( Aaron Murray and Laura Barker) are a real highlight. Jack Hardy is a joy to watch and hear sing as Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat, likewise Duncan Gadsby as Gus the Theatre Cat and David Perkins as the wise cat leader Old Deuteronomy. The whole confident and talented ensemble complete the fabulous Christchurch Theatre Club Cats production and the cats chorus work is very often an accomplished joy to experience.
The lighting and sound design (Robert Bridges and Total Theatre Ltd) is utterly professional and lifts an already very good show to even greater heights.The Christchurch Theatre Club look deservedly like the cats who have got the cream with this ‘Sold Out’ show. This reviewer is very much looking forward to Evita although the next review may not be graced by so many witty kitty based references. But “Don’t Cry For Me…” in that respect. Phil Lowe