Nick Winston’s production dispels at a single magnificent stroke those habitual audience demurrals that, however showy and extraordinary it is, Cats doesn’t really have a story.
He plants it in a near-derelict London Underground station during the Second World War, with a toppled train and the faded figure of Britannia trampled underfoot. Cats emerge from myriad ducts and pipes. Exquisitely feline in their movement and make-up, they represent a colourful cross-section of British society – from milkman, engine driver and Boy Scout to glamour girl and schoolchild.
This community makes a cohesive whole, suggesting but never labouring notions of survival and pulling together. Nick Winston’s choreography is breathtaking in its invention, precision and variety. The movement is seamlessly matched to every musical phrase and constantly refigured on this vast stage.
With every cat given their moment in the limelight, it’s almost invidious to pick out individual performances, but highlights include the flying leaps and high drama of the Macavity Fight; Robbie McMillan’s exuberant Mr Mistoffelees; the shimmying number Macavity the Mystery Cat, and Adrian Grove’s ageing impresario, Gus the Theatre Cat.
Jeremy Secomb exudes wisdom as Old Deuteronomy. Emma Hatton gives a deeply moving performance as Grizabella. A raddled figure moving with halting uncertainty and visible defensiveness, her rendition of Memory doesn’t just still the stage but, in this atmospheric outdoor location, hangs in the night air. All credit too to Francis Goodhand’s musical direction. Familiar though the music is, it feels as though we’re hearing it for the very first time.