The whole event was mystifying, and though it gives no pleasure to write it, there was nothing in Cat to recommend to enthusiasts for Lloyd Webber or musical theatre more generally, though clearly the authors have a detailed knowledge of both.

CatFor two nights only this musical written by Jamie Beamish and Richard Hardwick appears in the West End after successful outings in Ireland and Leicester. The production is directed by Stephen Whitson, choreographed by Richard Jones, and stars Gerard McCarthy as the feisty feline. Unfortunately there is very little to recommend it as either satire or celebration of Lloyd Webber musicals, or indeed any kind of musical, despite the undoubted abilities of the performer.

Things promise well at opening with a very detailed and well-furnished set that contains all the paraphernalia you would expect of a ‘super-fan’: racks of costumes, posters of many shows, a signed portrait of Lloyd Webber himself, a mannequin, a chandelier and a piano. A rich vocabulary of associations to be deployed, perhaps, in a scenario that would perhaps evoke Osborne’s The Entertainer, or episodes from the Lloyd Webber canon that reflected on the aspirations of the wannabe performer, or the standard musical theatre journey of aspiration to join the stars and become one. However, what we got was none of this….

McCarthy has an engaging personality and a more than pleasing voice too, but the script gave him little chance to display either to good effect. He looked fairly miserable in his cat-suit for most of the evening, and understandably so.

The premise of the show is that ‘Dave’ has escaped working for his paper-manufacturer father and moved to London to audition for bit-parts in musicals. His life consists of nearly getting cast in various minor roles by Lloyd Webber only to be cut at the last minute (the donkey in Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita’s llama etc..). There are diversions into the guise of a ‘Stage-Door-Johnny’, and ultimately a grand guignol ending that appears unearned and implausibly tacked on.

CatEvery now and then the episodes are punctuated by songs, which aim to ape Lloyd Webber’s style, but miss the target by a long and clumsy distance. The whole lasts for 100 minutes, which is way too long: what might possibly work as a late-night act in a pub simply does not have the substance or stamina for a full-length West End evening with interval.

Goodness knows, the Lloyd Webber musicals at their best and worst offer rich and broad scope for satire, but it has to be done with a degree of subtlety and wit, which is absent here. To work, satire demands that much effort as a tribute to the original at least. Indeed it was not even really clear what stance or approach the writers were taking – celebration or mockery? Endless bad puns are not enough…..indeed are not any kind of stance at all.

This did not deter many members of the audience from laughing uproariously at literally – anything – said onstage, whether or not it bore any resemblance to a joke or not. The whole event was mystifying, and though it gives no pleasure to write it, there was nothing here to recommend to enthusiasts for Lloyd Webber or musical theatre more generally, though clearly the authors have a detailed knowledge of both.