Review: The Co-op Juniors' performance of Cats was dazzling
- Credit: Mike Kwasniak
Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s reworking of TS Eliot’s 1939 poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is undoubtedly a classic piece of musical theatre.
When it first opened in 1981, it won huge acclaim but while music and songs were powerful; they were just one part of the mix; the costumes, the make-up, the lighting, the sound, the oversized sets and the high energy dance routines were all just as important and left audiences breathless every night.
A show like Cats, which tested the limitless resources of the West End, would clearly be a challenge for any amateur company that wanted to bring this demanding show to their local stage.
Happily, the Ipswich Co-op Juniors Theatre Company, is no stranger to tackling West End classics and after a two-year, Covid-imposed hiatus have put its own stamp on Lloyd-Webber’s dance extravaganza.
Over five performances in three days, starting on the 41st anniversary of the show’s West End opening, the Co-op Juniors introduced us to a wonderful pride of street cats as they gather for their annual Jellicle Ball.
Director/designer Oliver Brett and choreographers Lucy Allen, Ellena Bacon and Harriet Bacon deserve huge praise for keeping the stage so busy and so character-based that the dance numbers never blurred into one another and remained distinctive and impressive.
While the standard of performance was uniformly high, there were a couple of singer/actor/dancers who really made the audience sit up and take notice. Amber Bourne-Williams, as the downtrodden Grizabella, made the most of her iconic song ‘Memory’, making sure she acted the song, rather than just singing it. It was a heartbreaking moment.
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Connor Nainthy had wonderful authority as the show’s narrator Munkustrap, Ruby Mann and Marnie Sadd delighted everyone as the mischievous double act Mungojerry and Rumpelteazer while Mia Fisk brought the necessary amount of ‘look-at-me’ pizazz to her portrayal of the show-off cat Rum Tum Tugger.
Dance specialists, Sienna Taylor, as the white cat Victoria, and Grace Bach, as the Magical Mr Mistofelees, were just mesmerizing.
Oliver Brett’s inventiveness as a director/designer was just dazzling. Using over-sized props dotted over the stage he had the cats create an uncanny feline-face out of two umbrellas, a pair of flowerpots, some left-over wheat stalks (as whiskers) and later made a train out of a chest, an up turned lampshade, a metal pole and some bent bicycle wheels. This featured in Harry Butcher’s wonderfully funny song about Skimbleshanks, the railway cat.
The lighting, costumes, hair and make-up were outstanding – worthy of a professional show.
This production of Cats was a brilliant showcase for young talent. It is no wonder that two members of the teenage cast have already been signed up by two respected London theatre schools. It will be tough to better this latest extravaganza – a real treat.