By Naomi Hamer
My first impressions of Cats Talk Back was sitting next to what I thought was a serious Cats fan but didn’t realise until later on was an actor playing a mad fan (Daniel Mulholland). He was dressed in a Cats t-shirt and jittery in his seat, singing along to the music and checking the time on his phone. Eager for the show to begin and all before the other actors came out on stage. Or so I thought. There were other moments, particularly early on within the play that had me questioning what was real and what was scripted and what was fact from fiction in this comedic verbatim theatre spoof.
Apart from the actors planted in the audience for the open question and answer moments, the performance opens with a projection of the Cats emblem a black skinny cat perched on a building and silhouetted in front of a glowing full moon and a starry midnight blue sky in the background and six simple wooden chairs facing the audience. From stage left on opening night we have Elissa Blake who alternates with Jason Blake throughout the run as the “well known arts journalist” who convenes the panel discussion with a group of former performers from the Broadway production of Cats the Musical. Steven (Julian Ramundi) who is dressed in all black including a very actorly turtle neck; Monique (Jodine Muir) who starred in the entire eighteen year run wearing a silky leopard print wrap dress; Hector (David Woodland) in a velvet blazer; Bonnie (Taylor Buoro) who played a kitten in a cat ear headband and Reed (Callum Alexander) in a nondescript blazer and green patterned shirt. They are later joined by Suzanne (Shayne De Groot) a fellow cast member who moved to Byron Bay and just happens to be in the audience at the panel discussion.
While the performance as a whole was captivating, the standout moments for me in this comedy spoof were the audience interactions and the musical moments. It’s hard to know where true audience questions differed from planted question askers and actors but that is the magic of this performance. Or were all the questions planted? The first moment I thought something was up was when Mad Fan Daniel Mulholland asked if he could read and then give each of the cast members a copy of a poem he had written, inspired by Cats. When he left the stage, he didn’t return to his seat next to me and didn’t leave the theatre entirely either but later began asking heated questions from the back of the theatre. This time dressed in a PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) t-shirt about the use of yak fur in the costumes - to which the cast could not give straight answers as they weren’t the production designers or costume makers.
Other stand out moments were when the actors broke into song and improvised finding their inner cat. From the song Cats Kill which was composed especially for Cats Talk Back, Monique detailing it as an original scene cut from the Broadway previews which saw a three year old child being mauled to death by the cats. To an acapella rendition of arguably one of the most well known numbers from Cats, Memory performed by Jodine Muir and backed by the rest of the cast. The lyrics echoing the sentiments of the former Cats stars from throughout the night as the lights went down “I remember the time I knew what happiness was, let the memory live again”.
Cats Talk Back runs from 9-14 September 2019 at New Theatre, Newtown as part of Sydney Fringe.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.