The Bradford Alhambra Theatre, July 2006
I wasn't actually supposed to be in the country at the time, but at twist of fate meant plans changed and I made the most of it by looking up the where the Cats tour had moved on to after Stoke, found the closest venue with tickets available short notice and begged to go. So it was that we ended up at a matinee in Bradford on one of the hottest days of the year. My most vivid memory is of us waking up at 4.30am and dancing to muzak; I seem to remember we had a lot to do to prepare for for our trip to Bradford - it was a two hour drive from my house and both of us wanted to have showers/hair-care routines covered and our hair dried before we got as far as a car. The alarm was set for 6am, but we both woke up at the same time and were too excited to go back to sleep. It was already light - or getting that way - and after talking for a while we switched on the telly to find BBC2 playing some downright weird, up-tempo music and we both started dancing and laughing uncontrollably. The day had officially begun on a good note!
As always the show was simply fantastic. It was a ridiculously hot day and also there was a school trip in so two of my overriding memories of the performance are of a drop of sweat going all the way down to the end of Coricopat's (Philip Comley) nose and dripping right off the tip of it and of a nine-or-less-year-old girl sitting in front of me and saying 'Well, I could do that' very disdainfully during Victoria's (Rachel Ensor) dance solo in the Invitation to the Jellicle Ball which honestly wound us up and amused us in equal measure. Unfortunately that day we could hardly keep a straight face in Memory because - as we predicted after similar experiences in Stoke - the entire theatre was incapable of staying quiet for it and one person clearly was desperate for their sweets! It's a shame such a beautiful moment of the show was often one of hilarity for us - but it was a case of either laugh or go mad with frustration! But there were other details from the show I recall. Bustopher Jones was a particular highlight with the ever-loveable Alex Durrant playing Bill Bailey, who got bored and tried to eat his tail, then spent the rest of the number trying to get the taste out of his mouth, whilst Kevin McGuire as his partner-in-crime Carbucketty was being all mischievous and getting told off by Munkustrap repeatedly whilst John McManus' Skimbleshanks took a little pity on him and interacted with him throughout, even mouthing 'Oh dear!' at him when Bustopher said he'd lunched at 'The Tomb'! As always Pekes And The Pollicles stood out, with Skimbleshanks this time mouthing 'You! You're dead!' at the Pekes and doing a cut-throat motion to them! Then at the sweeter end of the spectrum, in Journey to the Heaviside Layer, Carbucketty couldn't get in the line to greet Grizabella and so butted in in between Bombalurina (Lorraine Chappell) and Demeter (Zoë Smith), clinging to their legs and trying to act innocent when they got annoyed with him!
Stage door after the show was a tricky one - and this is something which is often true of matinees, even when you know the cast really well, never mind if you only met them a few weeks before. This is something which is perhaps more true of Cats than other shows, of course, as the cast don't want to have to take off all their make-up and go out for food, they prefer to leave it on and eat in. Well, some of them. But, I think we still did pretty well all things considered. And the first person to put in an appearance? John McManus - clad in dressing gown, wig-cap and Skimbleshanks make-up - he greeted us over the top of autograph hunters' heads with his (to-become-traditional) 'Hi girls! How are we?!'. We were forever 'the girls' to John! But he was as sweet as ever to us - all enthusiasm and eccentricity! He loved having a Skimbleshanks fan - I remember him talking to people at stage door one time and asking a little girl which cat she wanted to be. She said 'the white cat' and John jokingly said 'Why does everybody always want to be the white cat?!' in response! Anyway, for the first time we managed to get John on camera, and we did it with a 'Big smiles...eeeeeee!' and a big hug to boot. Typical John McManus!
The next person we saw was someone we met in Stoke, but who I didn't mention properly until now. Alex Durrant played Bill Bailey. Alex Durrant was Bill Bailey to me - the most perfectly adorable face and such an amazing acrobat! He'd encountered us a couple of times at stage door (as well as the encounter in the foyer when I went to the Regent's box office for more tickets!) and he clearly thought we were some of the weirdest people he'd ever seen but was amusedly fond too I thnk! He was good friends with Kevin McGuire and he became the person who was always despatched by us to go and get him - as well as others - and we always felt he was slightly scared of us! He was always so sweet to us though, and Bradford was no exception. There's a good chance that at some point in Stoke he may have seen Liz and me dancing about as I sang 'Kevin fangirl Kevin fangirl!' over and over, because after we had our photographs taken with him in Bradford, Alex smiled at me and said 'Kevin will be down in a minute...well, he should be down at some point!' and when I laughed and went 'How did you know?!' he just laughed right back and gave me a knowing look. And he was right, Kevin was down...at some point...
And speak of the devil...Kevin McGuire himself did finally put in an appearance in person! He had seen me during the finale of the show when, whilst running off stage, he had paused by chance at the end of our row and I'd cheered in his face, making him laugh and mouth 'Hiya' at me, much to the confusion of the man in the seat behind mine. So when it came to stage door, Kevin came straight over to us, giving me a hug and causing the confused autograph hunters to go 'Is he in the show? Which one is he?!' and start going frantically through their programmes. (Back then, Kevin's headshot barely resembled him at all!) He said he'd taken so long because he'd been taking off his make-up and had managed to get oil in his eye, but really and truly, he was just running, as he always did, on Kevin McGuire time! Kevin talked to us about the show, and about which venues we were coming to after Bradford, as by that point we were booked in at Sunderland and at Bristol. He was also the one who first broke the news of the cast-change to us, although he assured us that it wasn't for a while yet. Still, that news put an anxiousness over us for a good while as we speculated about who would go and who would stay and wondered if the show would ever be the same after becoming so attached to this cast. After Alex and before Kevin, we saw another familiar face. The lovely Gary Watson had been asked to come down by Zak, who asked on behalf of some young children at stage door who wanted the Rum Tum Tugger's autograph. He recognised us immediately and was his usual lovely self. I always had a soft spot for Gary as he was so kind and sweet and always good to talk to, but I couldn't bring myself to get too attached as I think that Tugger gets quite enough attention already! Finally, after Kevin had gone, we were just waiting for Peter Tyler. We really wanted to see him and Dean, but both of them were determined to stay in the theatre it seemed! So my dad asked the lady at the desk at stage door to put a call-out out for them. She said we could only call one of them though. And, no offence to Pete, we soon wished we'd picked Dean, who would have possibly greeted us more tactfully than our lovely Alonzo did when he put us off making call-outs for life by taking one look at us and going 'Oh, I thought you were my food!' Don't get me wrong, I don't blame him one bit! But to this day this memory embarrasses me honestly!
The eagle-eyed among you will notice a man in a blue shirt, signing autographs just over the shoulder of Alex Durrant in his picture with me. That man is one Zak Nemorin (Mungojerrie). We failed to get a picture with Zak for the entire first leg of the tour. And by the time the cast was about to change, he knew we wanted one! But he treated it like a challenge!! We called him Tigger as he was always bouncing around, just out of reach, and every time he bounded past us, we would find ourselves going 'Can we have a picture with...no...ok...' to a blur. By the time we got to Nottingham, he'd just shoot us knowing looks from the top of the stage door steps! So just like that, stage door was over. We sat on a bench opposite the theatre, eating ice-cream and watching the cast make their way back in for the evening show, the whole time discussing our next trip: Sunderland in a little over a month's time. We really couldn't wait!