sat 05/12/2020

Cats review - feline freakiness | reviews, news & interviews

Cats review - feline freakiness

Cats review - feline freakiness

A high-wire theatrical folly pays off in its uniqueness

Courting catastrophe: Francesca Heywood as Victoria

Tom Hooper’s freakily phantasmagoric visualisation of an already strange West End smash is a high-wire act risking the sniggers which greeted its trailer. And yet it never falls, sustaining a subtly hallucinatory, wholly theatrical reality.

Tom Hooper’s freakily phantasmagoric visualisation of an already strange West End smash is a high-wire act risking the sniggers which greeted its trailer. And yet it never falls, sustaining a subtly hallucinatory, wholly theatrical reality. Doubling down on the bizarre unlikelihood of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s original adaptation of T.S. Eliot’s poems, this is an extreme fantasy vision blooming from the composer’s resolutely mainstream world.

Putting plainly human faces and bodies into digitally created cat costumes could be an absurd throwback. Instead, the excellent cast ache with palpable yearning, as if longing to be something or someone else, but remaining stuck between states. Among the faces which were wisely reemphasised as Hooper digitally finessed those derided trailer effects, Robbie Fairchild’s Munkustrap especially shows tautly strung sensitivity. Choreography and CGI give feline fluidity to every movement, and a deep sexiness to interactions in which every animal seems on heat.

Judi Dench in CatsHooper and Lee Hall’s script stays hobbled by an episodic, barely there story. It struggles to string together the musical set-pieces as the Jellicles tribe of cats convene to compete for elevation to their heaven. This exists somewhere in the vague direction of London’s Russell Square, not so far from the West End theatres the cats have to themselves for the night’s events. Sets and script evoke Eliot’s London between the wars, even as disco struts and Eighties synths erupt.

Instead of any real kind of narrative, this is a series of theatrical star turns: rousingly so for Ian McKellen as rheumy, vain theatre cat Gus, and Judi Dench (pictured above) as queenly Old Deuteronomy, her blond hair thick with age, like a cat who’s settled comfortably by a living room fire for a century or two. Royal Ballet principal ballerina Francesca Heywood has a fascinating, airy lightness as naive heroine Victoria, an outsider to the Jellicles tribe, screen inexperience fuelling an enigmatic, reactive performance suiting her reliance on the kindness of strangers. Idris Elba manages a pinch of true brimstone as Macavity, the cats’ Mack the Knife, though this eldritch quality quickly runs thin.

Taylor Swift in CatsRebel Wilson recovers the comic poise she mislaid in The Hustle as a lewd and incompetent housecat, spreading her legs with feline indifference, and stalking dancing kitchen mice (“Dinner and a show,” she purrs). Taylor Swift’s new Webber co-write, “Beautiful Ghosts” works better, though, than her attempted barnstorming as Macavity’s catnip-spreading accomplice (pictured above). Aiming for Weimar cabaret decadent, she stays American pop wholesome.

Jennifer Hudson’s tremulous Grizabella, the shabby outcast who was once “the Windmill’s greatest dancer”, meanwhile keeps her voice’s full soul power sheathed till a final, shattering “Memory”. Her homelessness makes her plight cut inescapably home, tying Cats to Hooper’s previous hiding-to-nothing gamble of a musical, Les Miserables.

Hooper’s uncompromised flights never quite escape the hoary staginess of Webber’s original property, and songs which though buzzing with energy and humour remain patchy and old-fashioned. In cinema form at least, the raw material really isn’t much cop. He’s still made a folly which somehow achieves serious success.

 

Choreography and CGI give feline fluidity to every movement, and every animal seems on heat

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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