Theatre review: Cats at Royal & Derngate

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I’m not completely sure I understand Cats.

For one thing there seems to be no plot. Even though the programme has a page entitled ‘plot’, as far as I can see it’s a list of things that happen, and may as well happen in almost any order.

The lyrics don’t make a whole lot of sense either, coming as they do from a series of T. S.Eliot poems written for his godchildren. And much of the music is, in my view, downright creepy.

But the most confusing thing of all is that, when I saw it this week at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton, I loved it.

I’m sure a large part of this was down to the fact the technical skills of the cast at this production were stunning. The dancing, particularly the large synchronised groups, was impressive and inventive and yet retained a sense of fun that left you with a Cheshire Cat-like grin.

And in many of the numbers it was impossible to tell who the lead was because all of the voices were as strong as each other.

Another of Cats’ great strengths was that there are so many endearing characters to choose from. From Magical Mister Mistoffelees (Joseph Poulson), small in stature but heroic in times of need, to big, lovely Old Deuteronomy (Nicholas Pound) and Rum Tum Tugger (Oliver Savile), an over-sexed feline version of Danny from Grease.

And old worn-out Grizabella (Sophia Ragavelas), a faded star of a feline, was captivating when singing alone in the signature tune Memory.

It was clear that much of the audience already loved the musical, which first hit the stage in 1981, judging by the toe tapping and cheering and even some singing along. Those who didn’t, at least love cats.

I’m not a cat owner, but I could clearly see the musical sums up the mystery and grandeur, and, yes, ineffability, humans see in them. And it was terrific fun.

Like the animals themselves, I fear we may never understand Cats fully, perhaps that is part of its intrinsic character.

But, also like our own beloved felines, we love it for the same reason.

Cats will run at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday.