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BWW Review: CATS, The Shows Must Go On

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BWW Review: CATS, The Shows Must Go OnBWW Review: CATS, The Shows Must Go On

Cats. Possibly the most recognisable Andrew Lloyd Webber creation, known worldwide for its elaborate feline choreography and signature song "Memory". Its profile makes it the perfect candidate to close the 'The Shows Must Go On' streaming series of Lloyd Webber productions, which has successfully raised over $500,000 across the past seven weeks.

This was my first ever viewing of Cats, so prepare yourselves for a summation from the fresh eyes of someone never previously exposed to this high-concept jellicle madness.

This particular production was filmed in 1998 with past and present cast members from international productions, and that's clear in the delivery, as the cast are on point. Lloyd Webber revealed in his live commentary that it was filmed almost entirely in one afternoon, with edits made across the following two days, which is an achievement in itself.

Based on a collection of TS Eliot's whimsical poems, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, much of the lyrics are lifted directly from the poetry verbatim. Cats has no real narrative thread, minimal character arcs and is steeped in absolutely no sense of reality whatsoever...but it's inexplicably charming.

At times, it is even captivating, and this is almost entirely due to the astounding choreography by Gillian Lynne. The elegance and sexuality that she imbues into the movement is incredibly bizarre and beautiful. The solo of the white cat, 'Victoria', is a particularly stunning moment, as is, of course, the Jellicle Ball. John Napier's costumes are unarguably spectacular and, combined with Lynne's choreography, create something that is really quite hypnotic.

This filmed version has clear limitations, as Lloyd Webber explained when he described the moments that the cats would usually be crawling out into the audience, or the theatre would be plunged into darkness. We miss the impact of these elements that can't be replicated for film, which is a shame, as I suspect those experiential moments were probably among the most memorable for theatregoers.

Cats is entirely sung through, and as it moves from song to song, it becomes increasingly baffling. What IS a "jellicle"? Why does Elaine Paige ascend at the end into a giant sparkly hand? Am I a Grizabella or a Macavity? This show raises far more questions than it answers - and that's why it will always divide opinion. Now, excuse me while I work out where I can buy some of those furry leg warmers...

Cats is streaming until 7pm tonight in the UK

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From This Author Caroline Cronin