The world premiere of a new musical is always a thrilling prospect. Are you about to witness the emergence of the next West End sell out – get the chance to see it up close before that privilege costs hundreds of pounds? Or will it slowly disappear into the ether and sit with many other hundreds of shows that have delighted pockets of audiences across the fringe venues of London over the years.
Killing the Cat is an ambitious show, with bold themes including religion, science, and a hefty dose of existential crisis. Any concerns of feline harm are soon put out of the mind. It centres around the extremely fast-paced holiday romance between Maggie (Madalena Alberto) and Luke (Tim Rogers). One minute they’re meeting over a lettuce on a market stall in Livorno, and the next they’re debating whether they can be together given their contradicting personal beliefs. She’s a scientist who’s just written a best-selling book about the chemical reactions behind all our emotions, and he’s a devoutly religious man who goes up mountains to find enlightenment. We also meet Heather (Molly Lynch) and Connor (Joaquin Pedro Valdes): it’s not quite clear what their relationship is, and Heather can see dead people – dead poets to be exact. There’s also Maggie’s sister-in-law (Kluane Saunders) who bookends the show and doesn’t seem to mind that her travel companion has totally abandoned her. Unsurprisingly, this plot is at times hard to connect with, which means that an emotional connection to the story is challenging.
Having said that, what saves this show is the musical score by Joshua Schmidt. Throughout there is a gentle weaving of melody into conversations, which then develop into song. The harmonies are juicy, intriguing, and reminiscent of Jason Robert Brown, or even Sondheim at times. It’s not a score that sticks in the mind, there’s no crowd-pleasing anthems that you can imagine being performed to adoring fans at West End Live, yet there’s something about it that grips the mind throughout. The band are an asset to the production, positioned right in the heart of the action on stage. The cellist, Georgia Morse, is a particular delight to watch, and her interactions with the actors feel natural yet considered.
The cast are spectacular, picking moments of harmony and melody out of thin air when required. Alberto is particularly impressive, with a voice that is overwhelming at times, in the best possible way. And Lynch plays her quirky character with charm, wit, and warmth: she also stuns with her powerful vocals.
The staging for Killing the Cat instantly transports you from the bustling Hammersmith streets outside to something almost otherworldly. It’s a stark white set, with stairs, boxes, and arches which, with ingenious use of lighting, become science labs, mountains. You almost expect to see Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face walk through one of the arches in her impeccable style.
It’s not always easy being a theatre reviewer; sometimes a show stays with you and leaves you full of thoughts and questions for many days – not always ideal when you have a deadline. Killing the Cat has done this to me. Whilst the cast, music and set were unique and wonderfully challenging, the plot was not as gripping. It’s heaving with potential and given the themes, maybe it’s OK that there’s no clear-cut answers to many of my questions. After all, existential crises can’t always be solved in a single evening.
Music by: Joshua Schmidt
Book and lyrics by: Warner Brown
Directed by: Jenny Eastop
Movement Direction by: Lucie Pankhurst
Musical Direction by: Billy Bullivant
Produced by: Mercurius Theatre, S&S Theatre Productions and Kent Nicholson
Killing The Cat plays at Riverside Studios until 22 April. Further information and bookings can be found here.