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New Theatre - Cats

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Cats whiskers of a show

Cats, at the New Theatre, Oxford, until January 3

During the production of Cats at the New Theatre, Oxford, Gus the theatre cat reminisces on his days in the theatre: "These modern productions are all very well but there's nothing to equal as I can tell."

And how right he was. Gate is now the ripe old age of 22 and is every bit a match for new-fangled productions based on the lives of yester-year's pop idols.

But Cats does share a similarity with Rod and Freddie and the rest of the Queen gang, in so much as it takes a previous text, the works of T. S. Elliot, or chart hits, in the case of We Will Rock You and Tonight's the Night, and fits the story around.

This is one of the reasons Cats has never been one of my favourite shows.

To me it is more of a rock operetta, the dancer's show with continuous singing, and less a musical. Call me old fashioned but I like a bit more of a plot and dialogue.

However, despite my reservations, I was pleasantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The evening started well. The New Theatre is showing Cats in lieu of a traditional pantomime but not to be outdone in the festive spirit, the theatre had drafted in snow machines to spread a little seasonal cheer.

Imagine my surprise when I emerged from the restaurant next door and saw the excited looks of the gathering children, shuffling in tonnes of the white stuff carpeting the ground. From then on I was sucked in hook, line and sinker.

I first saw Cats when I was about six-years-old and throughout last week's performance my mother enjoyed regaling me with the tale of how she missed both renditions of Memory, one in each half, because her little darling was screeching to be taken to the toilet.

This time I let her sit through what is probably considered the highlight of any production of Cats and it was worth the 20-year wait.

To me Cats lives and dies on this one song. Past renditions by Elaine Page and Barbara Streisand have seen it elevated to mythical status in musical theatre and meant Chrissie Hammond, as Grizabella, had some big paws to fill.

And she did not disappoint, even spurring my mother to say she thought it was the best version she had ever heard.

Others who turned in terrific performances included Sarah Baylis, who was amusing as Jennyanydots, acrobatic pranksters Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer played by Andrew Prosser and Laura Brydon, and Guy-Paul Roult de St Germain as magical Mr Mystoffelees, who also provided enough flashes and bangs to satisfy any Christmas audience.

For a post-Christmas treat, I would encourage anyone young and old to rush to the New Theatre Oxford before January 3.