For an amateur group to stage Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS is a huge undertaking - for a youth group to produce a show like the one on at the Octagon this week is simply astonishing (writes Gay Pirrie-Weir).
The skills, talents and sheer energy of this group of young people just take your breath away.
Yeovil Youth Theatre has been at the leading edge of invention and excellence since its first production, of Les Miserables, at the Gateway in 2005.
CATS set new standards with its singing, its dancing and its sheer scale, with 62 young people aged between 13 and 19 on the stage directed and choreographed by Judy Lye-Forster and a brilliant pit band under the baton of Kathryn Stevens.
It all started as Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a series of poems by TS Eliot, some of which were written with music in mind. They were beloved of the young ALW and he set them to music for his own entertainment. When the settings came to the attention of Eliot’s widow Valerie, she opened his archive to the composer, and CATS was born.
It’s a show like no other, full of demanding songs and even more demanding dance routines, spanning a wide variety of styles and with threads of a story that makes some interesting moral points about treatment of the old, family values and the seductive powers of the show-off – all this set among a tribe of cats called the Jelicles.
It also contains one of Lloyd Webber’s most beautiful songs, Memories, given to a tottery and raddled old alley cat remembering her glory days.
Yeovil has always been a hot-spot for stage talent, and the members of Yeovil Youth Theatre have already performed Our House, Billy Elliot, West Side Story, Fame, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and more. The company has given opportunities to young performers who have gone on to make careers on the professional stage.
But in many ways CATS is not that sort of show, relying on ensemble performance that would put many, many, professional companies to shame. The director made full use of the cavernous Octagon, with many moments when the aisles were filled with purring, preening cats.
The singing was just stupendous - as if the familiar feline make up stripped away any last vestige of inhibition and allowed the performers to sing from their souls, passionately, tunefully and in perfect time however far they were from the stage.
Outstanding in this astonishing cast were YYT newcomers Molly Bird as Grizabella (watch those feet!), Ben Wyatt as Mr Mistoffeles, Kirby Warren as Jellyorum, Ashley Quinn as the dependable Munkustrap and Liam Frampton as Bustopher Jones and Skimbleshanks, as well as old company hands Callum Baskett as Gus, Harry Johnson as Macavity, Andy Cannon as Rum Tum Tugger and Lucy Warr as Griddlebone.
But every single member of the cast contributed hugely to the success of this show, never out of character for one moment and maintaining the intensity and joy from start to finish. It’s a triumph!