Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The delightful ‘Cat’ stands up to repeat viewing.

By Pat McEvoy (Arts Correspondent)

‘Cat’ never fails to draw audiences and a full stalls on the Mall is on its feet at the curtain to acclaim a superb one-man show.

Originally written as a one-act, the script has been fleshed out with the addition of some hilarious characters that act as backstory to a tale of the unexpected.

Written and performed by London-born Richard Hardwick, whose mum is a Cheekpoint woman, and co-written and directed by our own Jamie Beamish, ‘Cat’ is an amazing piece of theatre that enthrals and fascinates, entertains and horrifies in equal measure.

Brilliantly theatrical but certainly no frothy piece of entertainment. ‘Cat’ is the story of a young wannabe actor, with no training…’who needs it?’…who lands a part as Jesus’s donkey in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. But when he shows up on opening night, Dave the Donkey is shunned and ignored by cast, crew and stage-management.

How can this be? His best friend Andy of the webbed eyes, whom he now calls God, wrote a part especially for him and has already promised to build Cats, his next blockbuster show, around the burgeoning talents of Dave the Donkey.

He buys his own costume and wig, turns up for rehearsals and finds love with his co-star The White Lady. Although, curiously, he never actually gets to speak with her…or with his fellow actors…or Andy.  Or anyone.

Even more curiously, he visits her in her flat when she’s never there…eating her Special K and drinking her peppermint tea…watching her…from outside…late at night.

But she’s his ‘special friend’, right? She promises to dance with him and he rehearses with her in her flat which he accesses through a faulty patio door…when she’s not there. He knows he shouldn’t but, heck, audiences come to visit actors in the theatre…why not in their homes?

And, after all, they’re lovers, right? That’ why he watches her…through her patio windows…at night…every night…drinking her peppermint tea. He’s like a virus that just won’t go away. It’s all so plausible and…wellllll, you can guess what comes next.

Or can you? Richard Hardwick’s alter ego is so convincing, so entertaining, so utterly loveable that any digression from that persona leaves you uncomfortable, disbelieving, in denial.

After all, Dave is so friendly, such a fun guy…how could there possibly be a dark side? However, tell-tale signs of schizophrenia slip in between the one-liners that slip from Dave’s lips.

Hardwick’s script is fascinating and Beamish’s direction is top-drawer. The pace is so intense that you get sucked in as the narrative pounds along; fooled by the entertaining stories, the anecdotes, the gags, the irreverent songs until there’s no escape. You really can’t escape the need to know what’s going to happen next.

So often monologues fall into the trap of mere storytelling, something that should really be read. Not this one. You’re always in the moment as it happens; in that in-between tense that is somewhere between past and present.

And Hardwick does it so well. While he never makes the mistake of talking directly to his audience, you always feel that he’s talking to you in a script that is manic and inventive and even manages to add a chorus to T S Eliot’s ‘Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’, escribed by Dave the Donkey as a minor poet!

With a deadly sting in its tail, this moggy is a seriously, massively, pants-down, paws-off weirdo.

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