Reviews/Musical Theatre

Lyrical litter bring new purr-spective

9 September 2023

WAAPA’s graduating class shine in a poetic production of Cats, even if the feline stories don’t quite thread together, writes Erin Hutchinson. 

Cats, WAAPA 
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 8 September 2023 

Cats is one of those iconic musicals that provokes a real difference in opinion – you either love it or hate it, and after the flop that was the 2019 film that rift is likely a little wider.  

I fall on the love side, being a fan of both Andrew Lloyd Webber and T.S.Eliot, and was excited to see what the creative minds at WAAPA would do with the work.  

For the unfamiliar, Lloyd Webber’s 1981 mega-musical links Eliot’s poems in his 1939 collection, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, bringing the Jellicle cats together to select one special feline to ascend to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn into new life. A simple idea with very little plot structure, the success of any production relies heavily on interpretation.  

A collaborative project between WAAPA’s Music, Production and Design and Musical Theatre departments, this interpretation highlights the poetry beautifully.  

The orchestra, in the safe hands of musical director Craig Dalton, performs excellently, with a wonderful overture and great variety of dynamics throughout. The sound and lighting are well controlled and effective, and the production crew certainly have their hands full. 

Director Crispin Taylor’s vision is almost Brechtian, jarring the audience from one story to another and pulling from all sorts of stylistic inspiration. There is fantastic use of scrim for projection of text and shadow making, some transformation of character and objects, and a touch of audience participation.  

Cats’ features some sexy costuming and sharp choreography. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

Taylor hints at musical Pippin with the concept of players onstage bringing the stories to life, and I would have loved to see him fully embrace this. This realisation, however, means there is very little ‘cat’ on stage and a whole lotta people. In fact, if not for the lyrics and the occasional twitch of a hand-as-tail, it would be hard to see it’s about cats at all. Perhaps Taylor was drawn most to Eliot’s words in Addressing of Cats: “That Cats are just like you and me.” 

Lots of it works, though. The simple brick set design and contemporary, sexy ensemble costuming by designer Eloise Greenwell are thrilling, and big ensemble numbers such as Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats and The Jellicle Ball showcase some sharp choreography by Jayne Smeulders.  

The 3rd Year Musical Theatre students are indeed athletic as promised, and Smeulders makes the most of that for Patrick Friedlander in The Rum Tum Tugger; Mungojerrie  and Rumpleteazer (played by duo Curtis Kossart and Emily Lambert), and the very magical mover Declan Allen in Mr. Mistoffelees with acrobatics and tricks galore. Though simpler choreography, my favourite staging is Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat, featuring Marcus Frost and ensemble, which captures the playfulness of the poetry and music. 

Notable performances from this year group are Cameron Taylor as Old Deuteronomy, with a sublime voice just waiting to mature, and Tim Brown as Asparagus, the theatre cat, whose nuance is delightful and presence captivating.  

Every item is a great standalone piece and this production, as Taylor’s intention states, highlights this, but perhaps to the detriment of the overarching story. By isolating each number, I feel no sense of through line and connecting with the stories of Jemima (Mia Guglielmi) and Grizabella (Genevieve Goldman) is difficult. When you take that away, the musical itself is about a whole lotta nothing.  

It’s always worth attending a WAAPA show. It is a learning and teaching space, and encouraging our future talent is a wonderful way to support theatre. Although I don’t emerge from this production raving, plenty in the stalwart audience are.  

As always, and especially with Cats, it’s up to you to form your own opinion. The season is already sold out, so fingers crossed you have the chance to do so.  

WAAPA’s next musical production, Godspell, is at Roundhouse Theatre, 10-16 November 2023

Pictured top: The young cast of ‘Cats’ give their all in another strong WAAPA production. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

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Author —
Erin Hutchinson

Erin Hutchinson is an actor, singer, theatre maker and teacher who is passionate about local arts. Whilst she wishes she could still be a ninja on the monkey bars, she’s content to enjoy a turn on the swings… easier to still hold a glass of wine.

Past Articles

  • Don’t dream it – see it!

    The cast is incredible, the designs divine and the joys are endless. Erin Hutchinson urges you all to celebrate Rocky Horror’s big birthday and do the time warp again.

  • Bradbury farce skates on thin ice

    For this very Fringy show, you’ll need to suspend your disbelief in a big way – and it won’t be what you expect, writes Erin Hutchinson.

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