Cats review – none of it is very catlike

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s resurrected musical features terrific dancing and some truly hideous moggies

There is nothing subdued and nothing rough about Cats. Nor is there much that looks theatrically up-to-date. I didn’t see Trevor Nunn’s 1981 huge-hit production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, based on TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. I felt as if I’d been taken back 30 years by the end of the evening.

The good news first. The dancing, choreographed by Gillian Lynne, is a string of terrific tours de force. Benjamin Yates and Dawn Williams skim and tumble together in such close synchronicity that they might be wearing one skin. Joseph Poulton supplies a ballet of dark dazzle: he could be a Catherine wheel.

Yet none of it is very catlike. It is so bouncy and so noisy. Where is the stretching, the sauntering, the stealth and the nonchalant disdain? What’s more, when they’re not dancing the cast have been made to look hideous. Feline hell is surely one of those cats with no fur. Well that’s what you get here in John Napier’s costumes. The exception is Old Deuteronomy, who is got up in a big grey tangle of fluff like a yeti. Elsewhere it’s all body-stocking glisten and Lycra, which means there is no difficulty in sexing these moggies. Still, someone seems to think there is: one poor creature has pubic hair painted on to her American Tan parts.

Nicole Scherzinger, as Grizabella, has the best-known number, unloved by me, not least because it reduces “memory” to two syllables. She belts it out all right but is extremely implausible in her role as a has-been. Age has not even begun to get going on the withering process.

I had some sympathy with the unseen character who, early on in the show, chucks a big boot to try and quell the chorus of cats. Yet all around me seemed to be in whooping rapture. I have never felt more like a dog in the manger.

• Cats is at the London Palladium, London W1 until 28 February 2015


Susannah Clapp

The GuardianTramp

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