The London Palladium,
I always think everything is going to last forever, but nothing ever does. In fact nothing exists longer than an instant except the thing that we hold in memory.
— Sam Savage, Firmin
The West End revival of Cats was a strange situation for me: what was happening to the show itself broke my heart, but I firmly believed the cast they had were one of the best casts the show had ever known - certainly before the end of the tour it was and almost all of that cast had remained. So, whilst in a lot of ways the show itself made me so sad, the Jellicles themselves had a track record for bringing me nothing but joy and magic and I couldn't bear the thought of them going through the exciting and well-deserved experience of being part of a high-profile West End run without me ever once being there to show my full support for them: I firmly believed no cast deserved the West End recognition more than them and despite the expense and complicated logistics of going to see a West End show, especially with how the ticketing for the Cats revival was done, I still knew I had to be there at least once. Originally the plan was just the one trip, but as per usual it was Joel Morris who was the reason for me making other plans! I've never been a big fan of going to matinees of Cats, honestly: I hate walking out of the theatre and it still being daytime - it just takes a tiny bit of the edge off the magic for me! But going to a performance is always preferable to not going, of course, and sometimes it is cheaper and easier to go to a matinee, especially in London. Oh, and also, sometimes, you find out your favourite Carbucketty is playing Mistoffelees every Wednesday matinee and, you know...it sounds like a good idea to do whatever you can to support him! So, somewhat last minute, I booked myself one of the marginally less pricey seats in the stalls, further back than usual but all I could afford, and having had my two non-show trips to the Palladium already I also knew the drill of how best to get to the theatre on time too, meaning an early start and the Slow But Cheap Train down to London once again! It was only a couple of weeks before I was planning to come to an evening show on a much longer-in-the-making trip for an evening show, but it was my first time seeing the show in its new form and I was so anxious about how the changes were going to make me feel. It was a nice distraction to message Joel about my trip and have him be so thrilled I could see him play Mistoffelees. I went and got coffee from the Costa down the road and kept my pre-show worries at bay by happily discussing what his take on the character was like for a little while...then suddenly he got the word there was a last minute change of plan and he was going on as Carbucketty after all. It's a very odd thing to be so thrilled and so disappointed at the same time, but that was how it felt! In a way it made my worries about the changes to the show spoiling it for me worse, because I wouldn't have the distraction of seeing Joel in a different part to pull my focus, on the other hand I would have a reassuringly familiar and comfortingly wonderful Carbucketty to keep my attention instead. For my full thoughts of how the changes to the show made me feel you can browse my Cats the Musical tag on My Theatre Diary page, as I don't want to get into anything melancholy here; this was an adventure and a happy one with a cast I loved, and absolutely nothing about any of it was their fault and without them it would only have been worse, so all I shall say about my memories of my impromptu matinee visit is that I got to see Joel perform a Mistoffelees-esque and seemingly endless turn sequence at the very front corner of the stage in a space the size of a postage stamp absolutely beautifully and with a cute Carbucketty grin as he finally finished and it made me smile so much to see it. At stage door he was as lovely as ever; he had a friend of his in as well and we both comiserated with him about the last minute change from Mistoffelees back to Carbucketty and assured him we had both only had eyes for his dancing all show long - despite Joel saying "they'll kill me" whilst nodding towards the direction of the theatre his friend was able to coax him into his best kitten pose and I managed to steal a shot of the moment which I took as great consolation as it served as a reminder of why I adore him so much as Carbucketty and never needed him to be a sparkly Mistoffelees to know he was amazing! As Joel was the only person who I had specifically told I was in that day and I hadn't been in my usual close-to-the-front seat, the only person besides Joel I got to see that day was Ben Mundy who was as sweet and wonderful as ever and whose sunny face and enthusiastic fellow-Cats-fan chat was more than enough to justify the last minute expedition to me! As much as matinee and West End stage doors tend to be some of my least favourites, this was actually a better-than-expected stage door experience; it was nice to stand in the sunshine and watch the cast come and go whilst getting to swap show thoughts with fellow Cats fans waiting alongside me.
On my second adventure to the Palldium for a show i had a little more time to prepare and plan; this time I already knew more of what I could expect from the show at the Palladium, though that didn't take away the slight edge of sadness there was to the trip - the cast were coming to the end of their run in the show and so on top of all the changes made to the show itself I also knew I was going to be saying goodbye to a lot of people, or at least to their time in Cats, and all of them were people who I had adored in their roles. West End stage doors have never quite felt the same as on tour to me, and with the show so different from the form of it I loved so much it was, all in all, a strange experience to be seeing so many people who I adored so much and to be going through the motions of dressing in up in my theatre clothes and doing my hair and make-up but the whole time just feeling so...not the same, not the same as it had felt so many times before as I had gone through the exact same routines before seeing the exact same people in - at least in name - the exact same show. Once again the show itself was...as beautiful as it could be under the circumstances. We were fortunate enough to see a performance where Sophia Ragavelas was on as Grizabella, which made it feel much more special than my matinee had as her rendition of Memory was and still us the superior one to me! Once again one of my personal highlights of the performance was seeing Joel spin like a top as Carbucketty in the finale. As for stage door, it was a chaotic one! So close to the end of the run, a lot of the cast had friends and family in that night and people to go off with and things to do; they could only stop briefly but all of them were kind enough to make the effort to stop and talk a little, knowing it was my last time seeing them before they left the show. Cassie Clare gave me a bone-crushing hug and thanked me again for all my support before heading off into the night, Ben Mundy and Joel were again sweet and kind and so good in giving what little time they had to me, in the chaos and confusion Dawn Williams couldn't stop but gave her thanks and was as lovely as ever and Adam Lake stopped for one final photo before we had to head back to the hotel so we didn't miss the tube - it was sad that it all felt so rushed I barely even registered what was happening almost, and with the show feeling so unlike itself it was a surreal feeling for me to not really even feel the sadness of saying goodbye to the cast the way I had expected. I think perhaps my goodbyes had been made to their performances back in Birmingham, and really the greatest sadness left for me was that I never got to see Joel play Mistoffelees - and that I would probably never again see him play Carbucketty (though that turned out a little differently!) Despite that surreal disconnect I came away with, I would still never dream of saying I regret it or that it doesn't mean a lot to me: I'm glad I was there for that cast, that I got to see them those two final times and show my support and see with my own eyes what Cats had become. I knew that cast were capable of more personal touches and detail and personality, I knew the show was better than what I had seen, but it wasn't about that any longer as to me it was about completing a journey and having it comfirmed to me just how special and magic a time the past couple of years of the tour had truly been. And, for all the rushed nature of it, I'm glad to have said goodbye properly by going around to the stage door - the cast hadn't all realised I was there that night so it was the only way I truly got to say goodbye and show all of them I made it down to the final chapter of their Cats journey, and hey, I even caught a glimpse of an old friend from the 2008 cast Ryan Dixon who was meeting up with members of the cast who he is now the agent of - funny how things turn out, I suppose, and I guess it just proves that no one ever truly leaves the Jellicle Tribe, a thought which I very much wanted to keep hold of as I said yet another goodbye to a cast and an era of the show which had brought me some of the best theatre and stage door memories I have ever been lucky enough to experience.