THE CAT IN THE HAT
The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 26th February, 2019
Dr Seuss’s bestselling children’s book is brought to vibrant life in this new touring production from Leicester’s Curve theatre. The story of two children, Sally and Boy (Conrad in the book) who, bored on a rainy day, get a visit from a fantastical cat and his troublesome brace of Things, is faithfully re-enacted using many of Seuss’s rhymes.
It begins with a prologue, a warm-up in which the children introduce themselves to us before bringing out the super-soaker water guns. They get us on our feet and singing along, to get us in receptive mood before the main action begins. Which it does – opening the story with a dumb-show sequence, brimming with physical comedy, as the children try to occupy themselves and annoy each other. We meet their pet goldfish, here portrayed as an operatic diva in a bubble. And then, at last, the Cat himself arrives…
As Sally and her brother, Melissa Lowe and Sam Angell are full of childlike energy, only outdone in this respect by Thing 1 (Celia Francis) and Thing 2 (Robert Penny) two wild-haired acrobats who hurl themselves around the set, with skill and exuberance. As the Fish, Charley Magalit is glamorous to look at and beautiful to hear. But it is Nana Amoo-Gottfried as the eponymous Cat who captivates and amazes the most. He is urbane and smooth in his delivery, with slinky moves and a jazzy voice, all of which he demonstrates while balancing on a ball, holding an increasing variety of objects. It’s an astonishing feat.
When the Things get out of control, Sally and the Boy despair at the mess being made and try to contain the tearaway creatures. The Cat wheels in a weird contraption to tidy up before he takes his leave. But what does it all mean? The Cat is a trickster, an agent of chaos, and his antics are at first attractive to the children. The Fish is the unheeded voice of reason, the conscience. The wanton behaviour of the Things teaches the children there are boundaries, and the Cat takes responsibility by cleaning up the mess. So, it’s a moral lesson after all: it’s OK to be a bit Dionysian, just don’t go the full Bacchae.
Suba Das directs this colourful, anarchic spectacle with gusto, showing a great eye for comic business and an understanding of what makes children laugh. Isla Shaw’s remarkable set (part illustration, part practical) is put to extensive use to support the storytelling and the physicality of the shenanigans. The costumes are delightful, capturing the spirit of Seuss’s original drawings, yet adapting them for human-shaped performers. The Things are spot on, and I love the Cat’s furry tuxedo, complete with tail and his signature red-and-white striped stovepipe hat.
There is much to marvel at here in this show bursting with theatricality and brio. It’s a thrilling live experience for the little ones, something they’ll never get from a screen or an app. More senior members of the audience will be nostalgic for when they read the book, and will derive pleasure from seeing the much-loved classic staged so inventively.