'Rum Tum Tugger is the sexiest': one-man Cats show claws through film flop

Bad films can spawn kitschy, cult devotion, as Linus Karp demonstrates in How to Live a Jellicle Life

As London’s theatres prepared for tier 3 closure last night, some of us spent our last evening out of the year in an auditorium watching a man in a cat costume give a PowerPoint presentation on the now infamous Hollywood CGI disaster Cats.

Linus Karp’s one-man show How to Live a Jellicle Life, performed at the Lion and Unicorn theatre in north London, is a parody and homage to the phenomenal 2019 flop. The show is centred not around TS Eliot’s original collection, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, but celluloid creations from Jennifer Hudson’s Grizabella to Ian McKellen’s Gus, and what wisdom we humans can learn from them.

If it sounds niche, it is also a promising premise for feline fans who happened to enjoy the movie. But Karp’s show isn’t for true-blue cat/Cats lovers and trades on irony. He appears on stage in a furry headdress, animal print body-sock and spiked collar to take a glug of (suspiciously dairy-free) milk from its carton before he begins his seminar-like standup show on how to be more cat – and a “Jellicle” cat in particular.

Linus Karp, How to Live a Jellicle Life
Tongue in furry cheek … Linus Karp. Photograph: Dave Bird

We are taken through the film, cat by cat, along with a critical appreciation of the actors who played each one. Victoria the White Cat (Francesca Hayward) is “a beautiful but kind of bland ballerina” while Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer are compared to the double-act Jedward. There are some nice topical jokes – Macavity’s propensity for lying is summed up in a Tweet-like statement on the screen that states: “Macavity won the Jellicle Ball – by A LOT”, and Karp speaks of fake news in relation to the film’s atrocious reviews: “We live in such weird post-truth times … You choose to believe most people said it was bad.”

His “wisdom” is firmly tongue-in-cheek: “Be sexy”, “relax” and feel no pressure to always be centre stage, although I am not sure a cat would agree to the last point.

Cats was released in cinemas last Christmas

There are heavy helpings of camp, from an interlude of “gay disco” when Karp dances (with surprisingly little feline grace) to his views on which of the cats have the biggest sex appeal: “I would argue that he is the sexiest,” he says of Rum Tum Tugger, though he may mean the singer-dancer who plays him (Jason Derulo). Some of it is heavy footed: he warns that the show contains full-frontal nudity, adding that “it’s not pussy”, and tells a few too many penis jokes.

His act is proof that certain films, however derided, can spawn their own kitschy subcultures, and it is cute and quirky, but makes us smile more than laugh, and its irony lacks bite.

In some respects, the material is less winning than the concept, although its novelty keeps us buoyed. Perhaps it is eminently un-Jellicle to attempt to rate the show, but if a verdict had to be cast on How to Live a Jellicle Life, it is not the “hairball of woe” that this newspaper deemed the film to be, and is certainly an entertaining reminder of the outre edges of live theatre.


Arifa Akbar

The GuardianTramp

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