Cats. Anne Cox reviews the opening night at Milton Keynes Theatre

Cats
Cats

Cats fanciers welcomed back their favourite show to Milton Keynes Theatre last night and what a purrfectly wonderful event it was.

There was a much deserved standing ovation for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stunning musical for it really is the cats-whiskers. I have a feline that it’ll be sold out during the entire two-week run at the venue.

Joanna Ampil in Cats.

Joanna Ampil in Cats.

The award-winning Cats was the cream of big West End productions back in the early 1980s and regional audiences are now in the fortunate position of enjoying the same high quality right on their doorstep.

Theatre-goers have an early encounter with the moggies when they pounce on arrivals throughout the auditorium. But as the first few notes of the show’s signature tune, the spine-tingling Memories, plays, they leap and bound onto the stage.

Cats is based on TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which, I have to admit, coming from a family of ardent dog-lovers, completely passed by my childhood reading list.

I get the feeling it’s a bit of a who’s who of cats, giving humans a magical run-down of the different types that inhabit our homes, streets and alleyways.

Who’d have thought that cats have their own social hierarchy, headed by the wisest and most venerable of the breed, Old Deuteronomy?

My favourite was a rather super Tom called Rum Tum Tugger (Oliver Savile giving it lots of attitude) who was a big hit with the ladies on and off stage.

But stage cat Gus (Paul F Monaghan) stole everyone’s hearts as he reminisced about his career in the theatre. He’s now a much older cat and facing his final curtain call but there was still a final performance to be had.

The hauntingly beautiful Memories, although sung piecemeal by some of the company of cats, was performed in its entirety by the shabbiest of cats Grizabella. But underneath her moth-eaten coat, a resplendent Joanna Ampil delivers a show-stopping performance that had many first-nighters stifling a sob.

The dancing, with the athletic and highly individual cast affecting the moves of cats, right down to their little twitches and facial mannerisms, is unparalleled in modern theatre.

But is it surprising when you have a show created by ALW, Trevor Nunn as director and Gillian Lynne choreographing the entire production? They really are the gold top of British theatre.

The set, a rubbish dump, is beautifully recreated in MKT, spilling out into the stalls – as – you should be warned – does the dry ice. Those in the first four rows should be prepared to be engulfed in the second act.

Cats runs at MKT until July 6. For tickets call the box office 0844 871 7652 or go online www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

@LBOanne