Stoke-On-Trent Regent Theatre,
It took a long time for me to find myself back at Cats, and, although when I did finally return I still had to settle for the show in its new form and with a new cast to get to know in their roles, there was still more than enough magic in the air to sweep me away and have me crying...more than once! And whilst I vowed not to get attached to the new cast, it proved to be an empty promise as several of the performances on the Regent's stage ending up taking my breath away and leading me back to that old haunt of mine: the stage door of Cats the musical at the Regent Theatre. Going to see Cats again after a long time away from the show is always a special, magical experience for me - and it has often been the start of a whole new journey, given that that scenario is what first brought to the stage door and what brought me the unique and beautiful memories and friends I made over the course of the 2013 - 2014 UK & Europe tour of the show. Of course, this time was different to all those times before - this time Cats is a different show with changes made to it that completely alter the experience for me and change what I am able to take out of it. But, having said that? I cried. So much. It was a beautiful, wonderful, amazing night and the adrenalin crash from it was hard. That feeling, when the Overture starts is - to quote Trevor Nunn - "indelible" and nothing can quite match the emotion of watching The Jellicle Ball, Mistoffelees, Memory and The Ad-Dressing Of Cats live. And there were definitely some stand-out performers in this cast who really caught my eye and made me smile, and who I took the time to cheer for in the Finale too, of course, taking all the under-appreciated Jellicles by surprise as I always do! I think the real MVP of the evening had to be the adorable Aaron Hunt, who was possibly the best Bill Bailey I have ever seen - he had me laughing so much with his antics and I just couldn't take my eyes off him, his facial expression and interactions were just too perfect. And unlike a lot of Bill Baileys, he seemed to be as much of a balletic and playful little kitten as Carbucketty, if not even more kittenish than him. Other honourable mentions have to go to the stunning, glorious dancer that is Shiv Rabheru as Quaxo/Mistoffelees (it has been too long since I saw the Mistoffelees solo danced like that!) and of course Enric Marimon deserves an honourable mention for playing my favourite kitten Carbucketty. Meeting those three at stage door was another highlight of my night. It will never cease to astound me how much a smiling face in the stalls can mean to performers and my high-definition Cats fan in overload facial expression in the stalls - and of course my big cheers! - had not gone unnoticed by any of them, with all of them thanking me for it and telling me how much it meant to them to see and hear that reaction. I also give extra points to Shiv Rabheru for having the proper Cats fan reaction of "OH!! WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?!" when I mentioned I'd seen Jacob Brent and John Partridge as Mistoffelees and Rum Tum Tugger in the West End way back when! In terms of onstage highlights, as always, a lot of my favourite moments were the dancing and just the sheer wonder of the atmosphere that the show always creates despite what's been done to it, especially in Act Two, although I do once more have to give special mention to Aaron Hunt's Bill Bailey hilariously spinning himself into a tizzy in The Rum Tum Tugger and being delightfully mischievous and befuddled as the other cats told him off and marshalled him into position to greet Bustopher Jones. However, being coldly, cruelly honest? Even though I came away on a cloud, and even though there were many moments of brilliance, the show was not as powerful to me as it was back in 2014, and some sense of tribe and personality has been lost. And I absolutely do not want anyone to think I am directing that disappointment towards the blantently talented cast I saw: it was not their fault! They shone as individuals completely, but the changes to the show had shifted the dynamic of the tribe, toned down the opportunity to really personalise the characters and go crazy, sapped some of the humour out of the show and disrupted its flow and its warmth. Audience interaction was noticeably down, moments provided for the cast to give those little extra interactions and details were also clamped down, some of the physical and visual comedy, both centre stage and in the background of songs, had been stifled - and this had been going on since the London Palladium transfer as I noticed even my dear 2014 cast become a more muted version of the tribe after they opened there, some edict clearly being handed down from on high that they wanted Cats to go the route of having "stars" and everyone else to subdue themselves to make those "stars" more clearly defined to your average audience member - it's changed the show a lot for me, though I hope for a shift back in any future tours as these things shift and change and move away from being associated so much with the London transfer and its requirements for an air of "showbiz" to push expensive London ticket prices. Cats will always be and wonderous, magical thing and this cast did their utmost to prove it. If you would like to read more about my thoughts from that night, you can find my blog post about this trip on My Theatre Diary, tagged with Cats the Musical and archived under September 2016.