Ambassadors Theatre, London – until 26 April 2017
Guest reviewer: Tanya Jones
It’s fair to say that I went along to Cat – (The Play!!!) expecting something light and fluffy. The press release promised “a playful and cheeky homage to the world of musical theatre”, and certainly the stage design was a beautiful summary of the legacy of one Andrew Lloyd Webber, with posters, costumes and dressing-room ambience galore. Gerard McCarthy’s performance was certainly also wide-eyed and light for the majority of the performance, taking advantage of his likeability as a performer and showcasing his undisputed talent in musical theatre. His character, Dave the Cat, was described as “sacked from the iconic musical CATS just before curtain-up on opening night”, and perhaps that’s true. He certainly had a long list of amusing rehearsal faux-pas, an apparent short-lived job as Lloyd-Webber’s…well, it’s hard to describe, and a crush on the leading lady White Cat, which is where the tale starts to take a dark and problematic turn.
You see, it becomes very obvious as the play goes on that Dave isn’t really a performer. Perhaps he did manage to somehow get an audition for CATS, but the anecdotes turn from being a muse for “AL-W” to describing the “Stage Door Johnnies” in detail, and when he makes it clear that his visits to White Cat’s flat are not with her knowledge or consent, then the audience realise that he’s actually an obsessive stalker. And this is where McCarthy runs into trouble, in this reviewer’s opinion.
I’m not opposed to dark turns in a piece of drama as a rule, but, especially as it’s a well-used and sensitive trope, it DOES need to be used with care. There is a real problem with who Dave is, considering that he ends the play murdering the leading lady and her boyfriend (the leading man, naturally), raping her as she lays paralysed and dying. If that’s your final flourish, I feel you need to have the characters in some way ‘deserve’ their fate; that they somehow at the very least need to have put the attacker through some sort of torture. The problem with Dave is that the mental torture he DOES go through to get to this point is entirely self-inflicted, with the leading lady and man having done very little to Dave aside putting up with his attentions at the stage door.
The other problem that Dave being a fan presents is that the characterisations of the fans involved then seem a little cruel, with Dave himself being the most extreme example. The play thus turns from the affectionate parody of musical theatre that it promises into a rather mean-spirited portrayal of musical theatre fans, which is probably not what McCarthy really intended.
Not that this appeared to bother the audience, who, to this reviewer’s unschooled eye, seemed to be made up primarily of people working in musical theatre (even Anita Harris turned up), with lots of knowing laughs and a standing ovation at the end. I certainly admired McCarthy’s ability to carry an entire 100-minute show (with interval) by himself, but perhaps I’ve missed the point. It’s a shame, as although it was a deeply flawed narrative, it was still an enjoyable performance. I’d recommend McCarthy (and, indeed, anyone) steer clear of dark dramatic tools in future unless he can really justify them.