Theatre review: Cats at Manchester Opera House
They slunk through the stalls, only stopping to purr or hiss suspiciously as they approached the waiting stage, a giant junkyard that serves as their night-time playground.
It’s midnight. Not a sound from the pavement.
The Cats have arrived in Manchester, bringing the inimitable music style of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s time-served production to the historic Opera House theatre.
This is the fourth time I have seen this production, every time in a different theatre, and each time I discover something entirely new.
It stands the test of time despite the lack of an obvious storyline.
Instead it follows a quirky path through the poetry of TS Eliot and his ‘Old Possums Book of Practical cats.’
This does not follow the practical conventions of a musical and in that lies its fascination and allure.
Directed on this tour by Trevor Nunn, Cats is physical dance theatre at its finest.
I was practically exhausted just watching this talented ensemble production, as one piece of complex choreography melted into another.
Every move, every sound is feline and in the relatively cosy and intimate surrounds of the Opera House, this translates to a very immersive experience.
Sitting in the stalls, particularly, you get the feeling of being in the middle of a sea of cats, as a variety of characters of characters are introduced to you using the distinctive rhythms of TS Eliot’s work combined with jaunty music and lyrics of Lloyd Webber’s compositions.
It seems impossible that this many dancers and singers can work together so apparently seamlessly as they interact with each other, the relative small size of the set contradicted by the multi-level approaches through the ‘junkyard’ - cats appear from every hole, every gap and the storyline takes you right to the roof and the ‘heavyside layer’.
Although the whole company excels in this production, aided by the very special live orchestra directed by Tim Davies, there are one of two standout performances including Anita Louise Combe in the classic role of Grizabella.
Her high notes raise the roof during Memory, as an actress she evokes contradictions of sadness and joy in the former ‘glamour cat’ just as capably as those who have previously played the role made famous by Elaine Paige.
On stage it is White Cat Sophia McAvoy that draws the eyes as she slinks around the stage performing some incredible balletic moves and inspiring not a few of the audience to paws for thought and get straight to the gym.(sorry, couldn’t resist)
The rapping and cheeky Marcquelle Ward as Rum Tum Tugger, gets the audience clapping along while in act two, the magical and balletic Mr Mistofolees proves a crowd favourite as ever.
Cats, as ever, got the audience purring and there was something a little bit extra special about this production in Manchester.