The boys and I have had rather a pleasant ‘glut’ of musicals at The Bristol Hippodrome recently. Last week I struggled to decide whether Evita was suitable for a 9 and 7 year old and eventually opted to take just my eldest. This week, by contrast, I couldn’t wait to introduce both of them to the incredibly popular family friendly musical – CATS.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS originally opened at the New London Theatre in 1981 and played almost 9,000 performances. Pre-children, husband and I watched it in that amazing setting just a few weeks before it closed in May 2002. Having experienced the purpose built set, I wasn’t sure how a brief run at the Hippodrome would compare.
The show continues to be massively popular today. Having celebrated 21 record-breaking years, it’s one of the world’s longest running musicals. It’s been seen by over 50 million people, performed in at least 10 different languages and won an Olivier Award for Best Musical in 1981. A pretty impressive record for a show which initially struggled to attract finance.
The story is based on T.S Eliot’s ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’.
On just one special night of the year, all Jellicle cats meet at the Jellicle Ball where Old Deuteronomy, their wise and benevolent leader decides which of them will be reborn into a whole new Jellicle life.
The show begins with cats eyes staring out at us of from the night. As the stage becomes lighter we see that the set is rubbish – quite literally a junk yard. It was fun gradually making out huge versions of discarded items during the show, such as an old bedstead, a rusty oven, food packaging such as Ritz crackers and an old car with the apt number plate ‘NAP 16.’ Giant strings of fairy lights are draped around the theatre and I’ve never seen so much dry ice, which shrouded the stage in a misty moon-lit atmosphere.
All the inhabitants of this world are cats. One by one we’re introduced to each of the key characters and the sea of feline faces begins to separate as they reveal their stories and individual personalities to us. The main plot is very simple to follow although some of the tangents their stories head off on do seem slightly bonkers!
The visuals shine throughout in many forms: the set, the lighting, the quality and variety of the dancing and the special effects.
My 7 year old is a keen novice gymnast so the acrobatics are always a winner
“Mummy he did a backflip!”
Pranksters Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer amused me with a double headed cart wheel right across the stage.
This isn’t a show you just spectate from a distance. The audience is often right at the centre of the action when the cats prowl around or dance in the aisles.
The music includes repetitive and catchy tunes such as ‘The Jellicle Ball’ but the show stopper is ‘Moonlight’, made famous by Elaine Paige, which was beautifully and powerfully sung by Sophia Ragavelas (Grizabella).
This is a wonderfully showy show with an impressive energy. Not only is the singing pretty much non-stop, but the musical is virtually ‘danced through’ too. Most of the cast are not only singers but experienced dancers too. Gillian Lynne’s Choreography is beautiful, varied and fills the stage with visually appealing action – glam rock, fabulous feline prowling and plenty of ballet.
This version is very professional, seamless and alive with energy. A great family show.
During the interval Old Deuteronomy remained on the stage, so if your children bring an autograph book, they might be in luck.
Although we couldn’t see it very well from where we were sitting, the front of the stage was also cleverly littered – It’s worth wandering down to the stage to appreciate it close up. (Clearly I mean during the interval or before or after the show. There’s a limit to audience participation you know!)
Even though the plot is quite simple, the show makes much more sense if you familiarise yourself with the story beforehand. (Darn, I keep forgetting to do that!). There’s a good synopsis in the programme if, like me, you need to do a bit of last minute homework.
If you’re going with young children, a small booster seat for their chair might be handy.
To read any of my other show reviews, please click the titles below
CATS is currently showing at The Bristol Hippodrome from Tuesday 15th to Saturday 26th October 2013.
Evenings at 7.30 pm
Matinees on Wed & Sat at 2.30 pm plus Thu 17th
Tickets: £15.00 – £45.00
Concessions available at certain performances
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Disclosure: We received tickets for the purposes of this review, but as usual, opinions are mine, ALL MINE!