A Friday Night Out
The show didn’t begin until 8:00 pm, which meant I had some time to go and have some dinner and visit a couple of bars (though I have found that exploring bars on a Friday night can be a little tricky since they tend to all be packed to the brim). However, come 8:00 pm (or a little before) I made my way to the Regent Theatre, which had a steady stream of people pouring in through the doors. To me it seems as if theatre is not dead, and the number of young people coming along is also quite encouraging.
Mind you, the Melbourne scene is nowhere near as great as the London scene, but that probably has a lot to do with the fact that while we are a major city, we don’t have the population, or the huge influx of tourists, that can support a scene similar to London. Melbourne only has three major theatres (The Princess Theatre, Her Majesty’s Theatre, and The Regent Theatre) and shows tend to come along for limited seasons. Okay, Les Miserables and Wicked both had a pretty long showing, however that tends to be the exception as opposed to the rule (and here I was thinking that the only time I could see Wicked again was when I returned to London – and I actually travelled all the way to London just to see Les Mis, which I have to say was probably the most expensive theatre ticket that I have ever purchased).
As for other musicals in Melbourne, I guess it depends on what ends up coming along. To be honest I am really not interested in seeing a musical version of Ghost, and when I discovered that they had turned King Kong into a musical I simply shook my head in disbelief. A part of me felt that they must be getting really desperate for ideas to create a musical (maybe they should consider Die Hard – the musical; or The Terminator – The Musical).
The Jellicle Cats
It actually took me a little while to get used to the production. I guess a part of me, who has only seen musicals which have a very definite plot, was expecting something much the same from Cats. However I have to say that Cats isn’t like any of the other musicals that I have seen to date – in fact I would probably describe it more as a stage show than an actual musical. What I mean is that the musicals that I have seen tend to have quite a defined story where the actors will either sing all of the lines, or randomly burst out in song. Okay, Cat’s does have a story, but to me it seems to sit in the background and the actual production is what comes to the fore. The reason I say that is because there was a lot more dancing – in fact it is the only musical that I have seen where the actors actually dance. In fact you even have the actors doing somersaults and cartwheels across the stage.
The play is based upon a children’s poem by T.S. Elliot called The Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (I believe if you look hard enough you might be able to find a version on the internet). At first the musical baffled me somewhat because, as I have suggested, I was expecting there to be more of a story. Sure, there was one in the background, however it seemed to focus much more on the songs, and the production. Thus for the first quarter I have to admit that I didn’t really like it, until I started to get into the songs (and also being quite intrigued at seeing these actors crawling all over the stage dressed up as cats). However, when I discovered that the musical is actually based on a poem it all started to make sense – it is no so much the story that is important, but how the story is constructed.
Sure, there is a main character – the cat Grizbella – who begins the play being scorned by the other cats since she had left the fold to go and explore the world at large. However, I was a little baffled because there was a suggestion that these cats lived together in a tribe – the Jellicle tribe. However, once again we must look back to the source – this is based on a poem for children (though Webber, with the assistance of T.S. Elliot’s widow, went beyond the original poem, and the entire musical was constructed by various poems written by T.S. Elliot, even if they weren’t part of the original collection). In these poems the world that we know tends to be left behind, and the curtain is pulled back on a world that many of us would be privileged to see. In the case of Cats we are allowed to look upon a ceremony that is performed once a year where the tribe comes together for the Jellicle Ball to elect one cat to ascend to the Heviside Layer where they will be born anew (if it sounds like nonsense, that is because, once again, it is based on a children’s story).
As I have suggested, there is a story, but many of the songs involve us being introduced to various members of the tribe. In fact most of the songs deal with individual members. It begins with the naming of the cats, where we are told that the cats have three names, however instead of going into detail I’ll just play a clip that I found on Youtube:
The Old Possum’s Book
The Heviside Layer
It sounds in part like the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the Biblical story in which the son takes his inheritance and then leaves his family to go and live it up. However, after squandering everything, he then returns to be welcomed by his father as if he had never left. Mind you, while the prodigal son is initially rejected by his brother (and the story never tells us whether the brother eventually accepts him back into the family), he is immediately welcomed back by the father. This is not the case with Grizbella – she is rejected, and remains rejected until the end when she is the one who receives the honour of being born anew.
I guess, it is in part a story about redemption, and renewal, a story that strikes at the heart of many of us who have suffered broken relationships. Yet to many of us these broken relationships are in the end beyond repairs. Like Grizbella, we are shunned by our peers, and find ourselves on the outside, alone. We don’t exactly know what Grizbella did to land up in that situation, but she is eventually given that second chance, to return to the fold as a new person, and cleansed of her past. This may not necessarily be what happens to us when we suffer a breakdown in our relationships, however I do note that it is not necessarily the tribe that welcomes her back, but Old Deuteronomy, the defacto leader of the tribe (or should I suggest the wise old man). In a way Old Deuteronomy is like the father in the prodigal son – he is the one who welcomes her back, and gives her that renewed life among her peers, a renewed and restored life that maybe many of us need to seek out as well.