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The Cat in the Hat

by on 11 April 2019

Zinging with Zaniness

The Cat in the Hat

by Dr Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel), adapted by Katie Mitchell

Curve and RTK Productions at The Rose Theatre, Kingston until 21st April

A review by Mark Aspen

Zip, zap, zing ! Here’s a show with go: slow, no; a show with go! Pulsating rhythms propel The Cat in the Hat, a show bursting with energy and gushing with fun. Don’t sit still: there’s audience interaction, which the Rose audience of excited children of all ages did not hold back on. But, whether you are seven or seventy, don’t try this at home!

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Nevertheless, it all starts a little more downbeat(ish). Boy and his older sister Sally have been left at home. It’s raining; they can’t go out to play; they are borrrrred. Mischief rears its head. Out come the giant water pistols. There was a health warning in the foyer, but they’re dressed in yellow sou’westers, we are not. Of course on press night a lot of water is aimed towards the ranks of critics with their open notebooks (but it won’t water down our reviews).

Sally is, half-heartedly, in charge. So, she says, let’s read a book … or perhaps play with my new chemi-set. (Sally is a budding scientist.) Boy is more interested in larking with Mum’s newly iced birthday cake, or perhaps with the goldfish bowl. Sally’s attempts to prevent mini-disasters cues in lots of opportunity for athletic physical theatre, later to develop more and more into full-blown circus skills … but more of that later.

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Melissa Lowe’s Sally veritably fizzles with her wide-eyed sense of fun and of wonderment, which the audience finds infectious. Sam Angell makes a perfect foil as Boy, as his head-scratching feel of bewilderment has the children in stitches. It is a fresh, young retake of Laurel and Hardy, with oh yes, plenty of slapstick.

Sally resorts to the towering bookshelf and pulls out Dr. Seuss, whose books taught so many American children to read (and British ones to misspell). Seuss’ rhymes and onomatopoeia made him a much-loved children’s author, to say nothing of the sheer anarchic zaniness of the “plots” … a zaniness totally undisguised in this The Cat in the Hat.

Is it Sally’s chemi-set or the Seussist imagination that suddenly brings a new manifestation to the goldfish bowl? For suddenly in a bubble storm the mantelpiece, where the bowl lives, parts as Fish spins in in a large zorb-ball. Clad in beautifully imagined gold scales, Fish is the moderating voice of reason. And it is the voice of the genteel governess, strict, refined, the clipped tones contrasting with Boy and Sally’s provincial timbre. But when Charley Magalit, in this role, sings, her operatic background is obvious. Her coloratura soprano hides a Queen of the Night wanting to get out. All this whilst zorbing as she dances in a confetti swirl. But all the cast are multi-taskers par excellence.

The versatile music and accompanying songs by composer Tasha Taylor Johnson (who also composed for last year’s just as subversive yet fun-filled George’s Marvellous Medicine at The Rose) are just right for the ambiance of The Cat in the Hat. The soundscape is complemented by sound designer David Gregory’s neatly integrated, and many, sound effects.

The sense of magic hangs in the air, but I did mention mischief rearing its head, but now mischief personified knocks on the door. It is the eponymous Cat, suave, urbane, seductive, with a Sir Jasper-ish sniff of danger about him. He wears The Hat, a floppy barber’s pole of a stovepipe topper. Sally and Boy let him in.

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Cat summarises his philosophy in song, “It’s fun to have fun but you have to know how”. Then he demonstrates it in various ways. Nana Amoo-Gottfried is a magnificent Cat: he has the character spot on, down to a whisker, sings and dances with a feline agility, and is a great equilibrist with tricks that must need nine lives to rehearse. Cat’s antics culminate in his standing on a rolling knee-high ball whilst balancing a dozen items on his extremities, paws, feet, The Hat, and tail (do cats have prehensile tails?). However, Cat’s modesty is not constrained, “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me now!” he sings. But, as they say, pride comes before a fall. The first half, to use a current term, crashes out.

Zany and zanier, the second half zips zestfully in. The balanced items now hang from the cornice, the rafters, swing from the chandelier. These include the goldfish’s bowl’s contents now in the teapot up on the roof, whence Fish’s voice of reason tries to become the voice of conscience.

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When Cat promises “the only thing larger than life” it is a big black box, ostensibly and “provably” empty. Various incantations (in-cat-ations?) later, and a loud chorus of purrs and meows from the whole theatre, open this Pandora’s Box. Out spring the impish figures of Thing 1 and Thing 2, and the mayhem is ramped up. The hyperactive Things bounce around like demented kittens after a caffeine overdose. The terrible twins, with their alarming bright blue coiffure, burst through paintings and literally run up the wall.

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The Cat in the Hat was conceived in association with the National Centre for Circus Arts, and it shows. All the cast has consummate circus skills, but these skills reach their apogee with international gymnastics gold medallist, Celia Francis as Thing 1 and graduate circus artist Robert Penny as Thing 2. They seem as nimble and lively and are almost as destructive as the squirrels that devastate my garden. Their dismantling of a bed and their flying indoor kits complete the havoc. Certainly Francis and Penny’s tumbling skills, all done a break-neck speed are second to none. In the audience near me, even though her brother was helpless with laughter, a little girl was aghast; as was the very proper Fish, marooned on the roof. Then from her vantage point, Fish sees the approach of Mum!

All is solved with a giant vacuum cleaner and sorting out machine driven by Cat, which would have made Heath Robinson green with envy. This is one of many whacky design triumphs by the team led by designer Isla Shaw. The house is a Seuss look-alike cartoon pastel, but cram-packed with special effects that dismantles and reassembles itself with seeming automatic ease. Lighting designer Zoe Spurr has a team of nine to create her magic and its associated animated gauze effects and chases. The whole design is a technical tour de force.

One can only imagine the huge fun that the whole company under director Suba Das, an Associate Director at Curve, must have from the undoubted hard work in pulling this cat out of the hat, whilst of course avoiding any cat-astrophes in pushing physical theatre so far.

As critics, we must of course see the deep existential meaning behind the play. But with The Cat in the Hat this play is play, and you will pleased to know there is none … oh, but hold on, there is … don’t leave your children alone in the house, whatever you do!

Mark Aspen
April 2019

Photography by Manuel Harlan

From → Circus, Musicals, Reviews

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