Cats at Adelphi Theatre online
In a jellicle move to turn us all into crazy cat people during the lockdown, YouTube channel The Show Must Go On – run by Andrew Lloyd Webber – is presenting the 1998 direct-to-video musical film adaptation of the composer’s Cats for free until 17th May. With a purr-formance which contains both the strengths and weaknesses of practically every production of this musical, it’s strangely enchanting – despite its many flaws.
The main issue is, as it ever was, that the plot is paper-thin – in fact, there’s hardly a notable narrative to speak of, other than that the cats are competing to ascend to heaven. It’s based, for the most part, on TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a collection of poems he wrote for his godchildren. This is reflected in the meow-sical as well: some of the songs feel like they’re geared towards children. Other than these similarities, there seems to be very little of substance here; no underlying themes or threads running throughout, other than our introduction to a variety of different cats.
So for all sense and purposes, Cats should be an utter failure. And while it’s true that it doesn’t have the same magic as it seemed to back in the 80s – especially not after the recent nightmare-inducing movie adaptation – it’s still weirdly intoxicating, with many earworms, some funny lines and concepts here and there, and a generally bombastic spectacle. David Mallet’s direction is as pristine as Gillian Lynne’s choreography; Nicholas Knowland’s cinematography as capable as Simon Lee’s musical leadership.
But it’s some of the music, performed by an admittedly silly-looking cast, which makes Cats particularly memorable; there are many lovely songs to choose from, with Ken Page extremely engaging as Old Deuteronomy and Sir John Mills absolutely stunning as Gus. But it is Elaine Paige’s Grizabella – and her powerful rendition of Memory – which feels like catnip-induced ecstasy.
Yes, it’s ridiculous, silly and pointless; and there are few genuinely good reasons to like Cats, be it this production or any other. But those who enjoy it just do, and you can see why: it’s a lovely piece of escapism into a world of earworms where one can just enjoy life for a good two hours – and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a fantastic guilty pleasure, no question, as is the milking of horrendous puns.