Fringe Box



Review: Cats – The Guildford School of Acting at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

By Ferenc Hepp

The Guildford School of Acting are back for their annual visit this week at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre with Cats.

An Andrew Lloyd Webber classic based on ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ by T.S. Eliot, Cats is one of the longest-running West End and Broadway shows, having received its world premiere at the New London Theatre in 1981 where it played for 21 years and almost 9,000 performances.

The Really Useful Group, who own the rights, have pretty strict guidelines about not copying any of the original logos, designs and costumes of the show when granting permission for performance, therefore GSA had a tough job trying to come up with an original concept. Nonetheless, with this production, they have somehow managed it.

With a cast of 35 from the final year of the Musical Theatre students at the GSA, as well as the creatives and stage management, this is truly a team effort. Everybody plays a crucial part in order to bring this to the Arnaud stage.

The GSA cast of Cats

The set arrangement by Dan Gent is complex but very clever. There is always something to look at and it gives the cast a chance to use multiple ways to enter and exit the stage area.

Chrissie Cartwright’s direction and choreography (as well as using Dame Gillian Lynne’s iconic original choreography) is genius, especially with this large cast.

The costume design by Carina Wells helps everyone to achieve their individual characteristics, and the effort this cast have invested to develop their gestures and movements are very clear to see.

Chrissie Cartwright’s genius choreography

This show is all about the dancing and there is truly no weak link within this talented group of performers. With the size of the cast you might expect to have some collisions and confusion, however, with the creative use of the area in front of the stage as well as the aisles, the blocking works perfectly well and the interaction between the actors is brilliantly portrayed wherever you look.

This is very much an ensemble piece but there are also some wonderful individual moments throughout. Darragh Cowley’s ‘show off’ Rum Tum Tugger is energetic and full of humour. Aidan Harkins and Annie Southall perform a wonderful duet as Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer in Act One which breaks up the group numbers perfectly.

Dom Curtis provides a brilliant and loveable contrast to the “youngsters” as Old Deuteronomy and Dillon Scott-Lewis is suitably evil in appearance and mannerisms as Macavity. Jade Ma and Luke Fraser Yates deserve a special mention as dance captains and Yates also entertains with fantastic dancing skills as the magical and elegant Mistoffelees.

Darragh Cowley playing Rum Tum Tugger

Arguably the most famous number of the show is the song Memory and Mary-Jean Caldwell belts out those notes towards the end of Act Two with such feeling and accuracy that it gave me goosebumps and received a well-deserved sustained applause from the full house on Monday night.

Cats was the first musical I ever watched live so it is special to me, and even though I do not think it is the best musical ever written, with no real storyline to latch onto, GSA does a fantastic job and these students should have a very bright future ahead of them.

Cats runs until Saturday, March 17. It is sold out but some returns may be available by calling the box office on 01483 440000.

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