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Webber's 'classic' is far from purrfect

My girlfriend asked me not to say anything during the interval. She'd sensed something halfway through The Invitation to the Jellicle Ball. And it was a good thing I hadn't purchased popcorn. If I had, they'd have probably ended up in someone's hair.

The last time I sat in a theatre and tried desperately to hold back the laughter was when Bez of the Happy Mondays fell off the Olympia stage (you don't want to appear disrespectful, like). But Close Encounters of the Feline Kind? What is that about? No, seriously. If I'm to go by a mixture of memories (wahey ... ), notes (furious scribbles) and mental scars (if I hear the word 'jellicle' one more time ... ), then Cats involves a bunch of sneaky wasters hanging around a junkyard, introducing each other to the humans until one of 'em boards a spaceship and bids her 'friends' goodbye. The end.

spoiler

And don't give me any of this 'spoiler' nonsense. Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical (based on and featuring a collection of poems by TS Eliot) has been around for 32 years. It's one of the longest-running shows in Broadway and West End history. And it's about cats. Cats named Grizabella (Susan McFadden) and Asparagus (Paul F Monaghan). Next to this pompous, absurd and occasionally unsettling mess of a production, Starlight Express is a bloody masterpiece.

I do have some admiration for the people who physically put this show together. An oversized scrapheap, the stage design really is something, and the cast do their best with what they're given. Some of them are incredible movers (Cats is as much a dance show as it is a musical).

picnic

Joseph Poulton as Mr Mistoffelees is an extraordinary talent, as is singer Susan McFadden (Grizabella). Though I imagine the rest of them are happy to be wearing make-up and silly costumes as they go about trying to convince themselves that what they're doing makes even the slightest bit of sense.

A genre-straddling nightmare, the only redeeming number here is the signature tune (Memory). Because, let's face it, Cats is not a classic.

It's the work of a man who clearly lost the run of himself on his way to composing The Phantom of the Opera (and that's no picnic, either). Apparently, there's nothing quite like it. We should be so lucky.

Oh, and my girlfriend loved it. I believe we have a problem. HHIII

Running until September 7


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