Cats Talk Back, New Theatre (NSW)

Lynne Lancaster

A multi-layered, meta satire on theatre and acting.
Cats Talk Back, New Theatre (NSW)

Part of the cast of Cats Talk Back. Image: Bob Seary.

‘When you take off the make-up and the wig and the tail and the leg warmers, what’s left?’

I am not sure what theatre cat Mouse, the reclusive celebrity that runs the New Theatre, thinks of this fun show presented as part of Sydney Fringe Festival – she is currently unavailable for interviews – but theatre and musical lovers will greatly enjoy this.

It is both wickedly, darkly satirical and quite sad and poignant in parts. It is also multi-layered, an example of meta-theatre, with lots of thought-provoking questions about the Heaviside Layer and being: What is a cat? How does one become a cat for the purposes of the show?

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The premise of this play by Bess Wohl (Small Mouth Sounds), first performed as part of New York International Fringe Festival, is that it looks behind the scenes of the much-loved musical Cats, with a ‘well known arts journalist’ (either Elissa or Jason Blake, editors at Audrey Journal – the night I attended it was Elissa) leading a panel discussion of performers from the cast of the mega-hit Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. The play is a clever satire, not only just about the Cats sensation but theatre and acting generally. There are both British and American references (eg Laverne and Shirley, peanut butter and jelly, and Princess Diana) as well as mentions of RADA and Broadway.

The questions the journalist asks the panel are about their experience on the long running musical, the very important question of how one becomes a cat, the actors’ process and what life is like now after Cats.

But all is not straightforward: among the cast are arrogant, self-centred Hector, the company lothario (David Woodland) who played Rum Tum Tugger; sweet Bonnie (Taylor Buoro); elegant but stressed Monique (Jodie Muir); and quiet, shy, depressed and heartbroken Reed, who played Mungojerrie (Callum Alexander). Each of them has a story to tell and secrets to reveal.

There are questions from ‘plants’ in the audience plus an unexpected ethical outburst, and a ‘spontaneous’ performance of a song allegedly cut from Cats because it was thought to be too disturbing to be included in the production. There’s also a snippet from another blockbuster musical. Accusations that Cats ‘isn’t real theatre’ has Hector exploding, with the rest of the panel in agreement. 

Theatre loving ailurophiles will hugely enjoy this excellent Fringe Festival fare.

4 stars out of 5 ★★★★

Cats Talk Back
Presented as part of Sydney Fringe
Director: Sahn Millington
Composer: Patrick Howard
Music Coach: Barbara Taylor
Stage Manager: Alexis Worthing
Cast: Callum Alexander, Taylor Buoro, Shayne de Groot, Jodine Muir, Daniel Mulholland, Julian Ramundi and David Woodland with special guests Elissa Blake and Jason Blake
9-14 September 2019
New Theatre, Newtown NSW
Tickets $25

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.