Royal Spa Centre, Leamington, until Saturday
Reviewer: Peter McGarry
All hail Hannah Hampson.
Who….? If you happen to be asking, the answer lies with Leamington and Warwick Musical Society. For their amazing production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber sung-through stage extravaganza, this young woman has lifted the art of choreography into an entire new league for local theatre.
Commanding a company of some 40 performers, she fills the stage with a kaleidoscope of whirling, swirling, super-energised action which never lets up. No pussy-footing here, Ms Hampson fairly batters our senses with a series of breath-taking routines which effectively cover just about every dance form.
There’s the fierce modernism of, say, West Side Story. The traditional tap styles of 42nd Street. Classical ballet is here activated with grace and elegance by talented newcomer Ellie Clark in the role of the naïve and innocent white kitten Victoria.
Hannah Hampson has already shown her acting value in past company productions and now, as dance supremo, she is carving out a whole new theatrical path.
She and director Stephen Duckham have taken on a challenge far greater than normal when tackling a hit show. Orders from London banned any copying of the original sets, costumes, make-up and choreography. For this Cats, they literally had to start …er…from scratch.
So the former rubbish dump has ingeniously been turned into a derelict theatre, occupied by the Jellicle cats, and their costumes
have been splendidly re-designed by the (it has to be said) appropriately named Helen Jellicoe.
An unfortunate aspect for much of the first half, however, is loss of clarity in the plot-setting big company numbers. It would appear to be down to technical problems and certainly not Matt Flint’s superb musical direction or the vitality of the players. At least the unrelenting visual excitement is there to compensate.
In terms of cast commitment, there is hardly a paw wrong or a note misfired. There is great narrator-style work from Andrew Thomas, a sadly-afflicted has-been cat from Ash Spall, a stirringly paternal turn from Benjamin Wellicome as Old Deuteronomy, and a nicely villainous Macavity from John Booth who also doubles with Nelle Cross in a delightful duet of small-time cat crooks. The only actual hit song, Memory, is magnificently performed by Vicky Holding.
This show is outright professionalism in all but name.
Phew. It’s phenomenal!