Cats | Tour | Review

Congress Theatre, Eastbourne until 27th August 2016


Cats | Review


In 1981 the newly successful composer Andrew Lloyd Webber came up with a bold and very unusual idea for a new musical.

This musical would have lots of song and dance, no dialogue and relatively little storyline. The lyrics would all be taken from a book of poems written in the 1930s and all the characters would be dressed as cats. Initially there were many raised eyebrows about the project however he set to work composing the music, brought in Trevor Nunn as director and Gillian Lynne as choreographer- and the ground-breaking musical ‘Cats’ was born.

Having not seen the show for several years I was delighted to make a visit to the Congress Theatre in Eastbourne this week to discover why this show still packs houses and remains one of the most popular shows of all time.

From the moment I entered the theatre, I was transfixed by John Napier’s exquisite set design. The stage is portrayed as a cluttered junk yard, covered in a plethora of everyday objects. A washing machine, cereal boxes and newspapers to name a few are enlarged and scattered around so that we view them from the prospective of a cat and are truly transported into a feline world.  There is much to look at and take in until the live orchestra, with musical director Tim Davies at the helm, strikes up with what I believe to be one of the most exciting overtures in theatre!

If the initial fusion of sights and sounds weren’t enough, once the cats themselves appear you’d find it hard not to understand why this show has such universal appeal. Cats features a large cast with over 20 actors each uniquely dressed; the actors moving and expressing themselves with such believable catlike mannerisms that you simply accept the absurdity of cats’ dancing at all.

In each of the original poems in ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’, T. S. Eliot describes different cats by some instantly recognisable feline traits. He describes the Gumby cat as sitting on the mantelpiece all day sleeping away; the mischievous kittens Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser who steal themselves a variety of household items and the cool tomcat Rum Tug Tugger, just to name just a few.

These and other cats assemble once a year at the Jellicle Ball where the oldest and wisest cat of all, Old Deuteronomy will decide just before dawn which of them will be reborn to a new life. The idea is akin to the religious belief of reincarnation except with purely cat-focussed life cycles.

Audience awareness is an attribute that I also believe makes the cats’ so believable. Curiosity is no secret trait of cats and their watchful presence and playful interactions during the interval time builds to their characters.

From song to song, it is tricky to settle on a favourite as you hum the album on the journey home, however the iconic ‘Memory’ (the only song with original lyrics- written for the show by Trevor Nunn) was superbly done by Marianne Benedict, who plays Grizabella, the Glamour Cat on this tour. There are few key moments in Musical Theatre where you can anticipate a song crescendo to the exact second and yet still feel goosebumps as if hearing it for the first time. There is one such moment (and you know when it is) during Memory and is perfectly executed by Benedict.

This production admittedly does feature some notable alterations to the original West End Cats, the most profound being the change in the role of the Rum Tum Tugger. Marcquelle Ward who took the part of Rum Tum Tugger really modernises the cat, with less of the old swing-the-hips Elvis attitude, and more of the present day ‘bad boy’ twist; acting as a reference to how dance and music styles have progressed since the 80s for the younger generations. Clever insertions of rap and breakdance litter certain songs and work surprisingly well, and even compliment the old poem-based lyrics.

Overall, I LOVED this revamped production as it not only refreshed my memory of the musical genius Lloyd Webber but also because the cast is so talented giving faultless performances and has no difficulty in drawing a wide smile from all audience members.

Cats will be touring the UK until next November – The next chance to catch it in the South East will be at the New Wimbledon Theatre  7-12 November. GO! It is the cat’s meeeeeow!


☆☆☆☆☆ – This is a perfect example about what musical theatre is about!

Reviewer : Sammi O’Neill

Tour details and ticket links.


Eastbourne Congress Theatre 22 Aug 16
– 27 Aug 16
Torquay Princess Theatre 30 Aug 16
– 3 Sep 16
Stoke Regent Theatre 5 Sep 16
– 10 Sep 16
Glasgow The King’s Theatre 13 Sep 16
– 17 Sep 16
Sunderland Sunderland Empire 19 Sep 16
– 24 Sep 16
Oxford New Theatre Oxford 27 Sep 16
– 1 Oct 16
Sheffield Lyceum Theatre 3 Oct 16
– 15 Oct 16
Milton Keynes Milton Keynes Theatre 24 Oct 16
– 29 Oct 16
Wimbledon New Theatre Wimbledon 7 Nov 16
– 12 Nov 16