CATS – Purrfect on the Derry stage

Inspired by T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, this amazing spectacle unfolds in a larger- than-life junkyard playground and captivates audiences with feline favourites including Grizabella, Rum Tum Tugger, Mr. Mistoffelees, Macavity and Jennyanydots.      The Jellicle Cats come out to play on one extraordinary night of the year, at the Jellicle Ball. Individually, they recount their stories to entertain Old Deuteronomy, their sage and benevolent chief, who must ultimately elect one of the Cats to ascend to The Heaviside Layer and be restored into an entirely new Jellicle life.       Described by one critic as “a magnificent marriage of words, music, dancing, design and direction” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats is a magical musical sure to mesmerise audiences, both young and old, who enter into the world of this fantastic feline fable

Having delivered a number of workshops during InterAct festival at Millennium Forum just a few weeks ago around the Cats poetry of T.S. Elitot, I was hesitant about tonight’s production of the musical. I’m not a lover of Eliot and not a lover of cats. However, working with a group of young teenagers during InterAct had me swaying towards the content of this musical. But I definitely wasn’t sold.

And so I went into Derry earlier tonight with an open mind but with an expectation not to enjoy the show. It surprised me in every way. From that curtain went up at 7.30pm until it went down shortly after 9.40pm I was desperately fighting all my inner demons about cats.

It certainly helped that I now had a knowledge of the poetry. It certainly helped that I knew what was coming next. And in a way it helped that I was very aware of the total lack of plot to this show. And yet surprise was there at every turn. Surprise that I was clapping sincerely after every episode. Surprise that I was smiling from start to finish. Surprised that I was feeling everything I expected not to feel. This was good.

The performance, the stage setting, the costumes, the make-up, the singing, the dancing, the acrobatics, the sheer everything about each and every person on that stage never ceased to surprise me – all in a good, positive way. I honestly thought it was brilliant.

Accompanying me tonight was my best friend and her 14 year old son. That son had participated in the InterAct poetry workshops and knew what to expect. By the interval they both agreed that the performance and production were excellent but they were not sold at all on the show. I could tell they would both be happy to leave then. However, that all changed by the end. Even they were clapping as the show came to a close and both agreed that they felt it grew at the second half continued.

I, on the other hand, felt it had substance from the very beginning. Knowing that the rehearsals for this show only started a few short weeks ago, and to see this tonight, as the end result, was nothing short of spectacular.

Everyone agrees there’s no plot to Cats. Eliot wrote the poetry for his young nephew. There was no story as such. But as you watch the show unfold on the stage we learn about different cats. But in reality we’re actually learning about the different types of people in life. And in life, there is no story, there is no plot. There’s just each individual contributing what they can to life. Cats might just have more of a story than we first thought.

But returning to this production by the Millennium Forum Youth Theater, one cannot take away the talent that was on the stage. The talent of every element of theater, and it shone. It shone brightly.
I’ve been to many a production in Derry, and not once have I come home promising to myself I’m going to return on the final night. But that’s exactly what I plan to do this Saturday night. I’m not quite certain what it is that’s drawing me back, but there’s something. And Saturday night might relate to me what that something is. This is youth theater at it’s very best. Showcasing outstanding youth and talent in Derry.

What was my favourite part of this show? I think it has to be Grizabellas singing Memory. Those words just catch you every time. And it was sung so beautifully. And of course one can’t but love The Rum Tum Tugger. Well I do now!

Cats, I’m still not a fan of the animal, but as for the show, you’ve awakened something in me that I never expected. An awakening of the brilliance that was Eliot, and a need to return to see this again. Saturday night, I’m already looking forward.


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