Cats. December 2014.

Dear Rowley,

Sad to hear that Mandy Rice Davies died today; she of the 60s Profumo scandal who gave a terribly good account of herself in the witness box and delivered the unforgettable line ‘he would wouldn’t he’ when the defence council said that Lord Astor had denied having an affair with her. I am nostalgic for those days when disgraced cabinet ministers were compelled to resign and good time girls were ladies. The true scandal was Stephen Ward’s suicide not the Soviet spy who shared Christine Keeler with a cabinet minister.

Did you realise that Mandy was only nineteen when she was put into the witness box? I didn’t go to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Stephen Ward musical last year but thought the film Scandal was a brilliant evocation of the early 1960s. Mandy Rice Davies cooperated with Lloyd Webber on Stephen Ward and looked rather marvellous at the premier. The Brits like a pretty, witty tart with a heart and Rice Davies seemed to emerge from the scandal relatively unscarred compared to Keeler.

For once I am rather looking forward to Christmas. The year has ended a damned sight better than it began and without wishing to jinx it the past week has been riotously amusing. We had a meeting of the Sherwood Massive at Ciao Bella that was as rowdy as the Hell Fire Club. We had a delightful invitation to lunch from Sam ‘Lucas Rarities’ Loxton who invited me to meet jeweller Andrew Prince. Andrew makes the most exquisite costume jeweller and brought an attache case of tiaras including the one he made for Dame Maggie Smith to wear in Downton Abbey.

Needless to say Sam, Andrew, Fran and I were all wearing one each before they were out of the tissue paper and blithely sitting in the window of 28-50 Wine Workshop on Maddox Street. This being London everyone feigned indifference until a few drinks were gargled and then one or two tottered over or waved through the window. I think we ought to hold meetings of the Order of the Paste Tiara every Christmas.

The Henry Poole & Co Christmas party was amusing as was tearing a whole Devon cock crab with Patricia at Sheekey’s before tottering gently to the London Palladium to see Cats. The Palladium holds a special place in my heart because my father used to take the family to London to see the Christmas shows when I was a child. We saw Yul Brynner and Virginia McKenna in The King & I  at the Palladium and Danny ’35 years in the business dear’ La Rue headline as Widow Twankey in Aladdin. 

To quote the Divine Miss M ‘I’ll never forget it y’know’ when Danny La Rue in all his pomp stepped into the spotlight on the London Palladium stage. He was wearing a crystal encrusted kimono gown and the light emanating from the sparkles on his dress turned him into a human disco ball that lit up the auditorium. He was a smashing performer and, coincidentally, Patricia used to frequent his nightclub in Hanover Square in the 60s when it was the rage.

Now I must admit  Cats is not a favourite Lloyd Webber musical of mine. Evita I know off by heart and Sunset Boulevard is I think his masterpiece. I never saw the original 1981 production of Cats that ran for 18 years and broke records. But 55 million people in the 300 countries have so one expected to be dazzled.

Lloyd Webber took a huge risk setting T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats to music. The only original song of course is Memory. Not wishing to ‘diss’ T. S. Eliot but I found The Wasteland easier to understand than the surreal vignettes about Growltiger, Shambleshanks, Mungojerry and Rumpleteazer. I sat through twenty minutes of the opening number and am still none the wiser as to what constitutes a Jellical cat.

Much of the show grated on the nerves. I would have happily taken Gus the Theatre Cat to the vet to be put down and failed to understand why Macavity was played as the Jack the Ripper of the feline world. However, the revelation was Nicole Scherzinger the former Pussycat Doll, X-Factor judge and consort of Lewis Hamilton. What a stage actress! She plays Grizabella the Glamour Cat who is basically on her uppers, selling her tail behind Tottenham Court Road and despised by the cat’s chorus.

Scherzinger brilliantly acts Memory in the first half – keeping her powder dry -and then proves why she deserves to stand on the same stage as Judy Garland in the second. Scherzinger is a star and I think she gave the definitive performance of Memory to date.  There is major talent in this production. Rum Tum Tugger the cool, rapping cat is a terrific amendment to the original production. Mr Mistoffelees is magical; descending from the rafters in a rhinestone tailcoat only to perform 24 fouettes en tournant seemingly without losing breath.

There is no doubting that every cat on the Palladium stage does Lilian Gin’s original choreography proud. As an ensemble piece Cats is something of a moveable feast. I must admit I prefer musicals with a little more shaping and got irritated in parts by occasional turns like the tap dancing Gumbie cat with the chorus line of cockroaches and the utterly superfluous ‘Battle of the Pekes and Pollicles’ ballet that features the demonic Rumpus Cat who quite frankly gave me nightmares. But I’d sit through root canal work to see Nicole Scherzinger perform Memory live one more time.