Review by Daz Gale
The prospect of seeing a new musical is always exciting. You never know what you might be about to see and for all you know you might be about to discover your new favourite. That’s why every chance I get, I try and take in as many new musicals as possible. After the success of the imminently West End bound Operation Mincemeat which resided at Riverside Studios last year, the latest musical they are home to is Killing The Cat. Could this world premiere repeat that success and be the first of its nine lives?
Killing The Cat sees various circumstances bring a group of individuals to Livorno in Italy. Centred around author Maggie who falls for Luke. However, the course of true love never did run smooth, especially when a clash of ideologies is on hand in a new twist of the age old argument regarding Science and Faith.
A transatlantic collaboration between an Anglo-American writing team and UK and US producers, Killing The Cat is a confused affair, to put it mildly. Unconventional in its structure, while the action is all told in a linear narrative, there is no real start or end point with scenes all coming and going, merging into the next one. The confused narrative translated to the audience who didn’t know when to react or applaud, leading to one of the most awkward moments I’ve experienced in theatre at the end of the show when nobody knew whether to clap.
Written by Warner Brown, Killing The Cat tries to be too clever in its approach but by doing this makes itself completely inaccessible to the average audience member. You need to be well versed in the intricacies of science to completely follow the action, none the more apparent during a completely baffling musical number where Maggie explains in great detail various scientific facts. At times less a piece of theatre than it is a lecture, I half expected the show to end with a test.
The characters also suffer due to the writing and a lack of development within them. While I am partial to a good four letter word, the characterisation of Luke (Tim Rogers) as somebody who can’t go a full sentence without filling it with several F words just felt like lazy writing and any attempt at humour was lost in the crudeness of it all. All the focus seems to have gone on Maggie (Madalena Alberto) and to a slightly lesser extent Luke. Feel sorry for Heather (Molly Lynch) and Connor (Joaquin Pedro Valdes) who are reserved to completely one-note characters who may as well have been scenery in the background, and that’s not even mentioning Kluane Saunders who appears fleetingly for a couple of seconds at a time having so little to do, she might as well have been reading a book while she was on stage.
The writing lets down what is an incredibly impressive cast full of accomplished performers. Madalena Alberto is by all rights a living legend and does the best she can from a perplexing narrative which makes her character hard to connect with. A consummate professional, she still manages to make the most of this and once again prove she could play any role. Tim Rogers similarly showcases a fantastic talent but is extremely limited by an almost caricaturist nature verging on parody. As previously mentioned, the remainder of the cast are extremely hard done by. Molly Lynch and Joaquin Pedro Valdes are two incredibly talented performers I have adored seeing in multiple roles in recent years. However, they are both left with pretty much nothing to do, playing characters who feel like an afterthought. That said they do each get moments to showcase their beautiful singing voices in the second act which otherwise would have been a complete waste of their talents.
The music by Joshua Schmidt and lyrics by Warner Brown are largely lifeless and forgettable. Though there are moments that feel inspired by Sondheim, sadly the vast majority of them lack a real structure and often feel like background noise while the cast try to keep up with jarring melodies and perplexing lyrics. The lyrics in particular let the numbers down with an overreliance of rhyming a word with the same word throughout the show, and a truly terrible lyric about winning the Euromillions prize. However, there are one or two hidden gems amongst these often-generic numbers. While numbers like ‘You Fancy Him’ and ‘The Chemical Brain’ fall completely flat and 11 o clock number ‘I Think I Want To Go Home’ lacks the desired impact, it is Molly Lynch’s ‘All The Dead Poets’ which really steals the show. Beautifully written and stunningly sung, it makes the whole affair even more frustrating with the knowledge the writing pair have the capabilities of crafting something as spectacular than that but leave this feeling like a one song show.
The show also suffers from some confusing direction choices. At one moment Molly Lynch’s Heather stands behind the audience singing to a bewildered looking Joaquin Pedro Valdes on stage. This flawed approach made it impossible to see her without straining your neck and showed a real lack of understanding for the audience. The set design also disappointed – its sea of white feeling cold and bland making it very hard to connect with a show that was an unexciting visually as the dialogue. Jamie Platts lighting did improve this somewhat, however, though there is only so much you can do with a plain white set.
Ultimately Killing The Cat’s downfall was how inaccessible it is. Its inability to connect with an audience in a show that prides itself on its intelligence is ironically its dumbest attribute. The whole thing came across as cold and lifeless and was inexplicably quiet in its performance. Eerily silent throughout spoken bits of the show (which in itself felt too hushed), it highlighted the stop start nature of the music and severely lacked in atmosphere.
I take no pride in pointing out a shows flaws as drastically as I have done in this review. As an avid champion of all theatre, especially new theatre, nothing gives me greater joy than seeing a show thrive. As previously mentioned, Killing The Cat was a show I was particularly excited for, especially given the incredible cast that had been assembled for it. Sadly though, this is a show that has a lot of work to do if it wants to have a further life. It’s worth reiterating that my opinion is by no means fact and the show clearly has its fans as proven when another reviewer raved about the show to me. That in itself is the beauty of theatre – how two people can take completely different things from the same show. However, my worry is how limited the appeal for this niche show will be, particularly with how inaccessible it is. Perhaps it is a testament to my own stupidity that most of this show flew over my head but a show shouldn't need to make you feel like that in order to connect.
This show discusses the argument of Science Vs Faith and I have complete faith that Killing The Cat could go on to great things if it focused on making the Science aspect feel less like a lecture. The show also talks about unanswered questions, of which there were many regarding this – its lack of an ending for one. However, while that may have been completely intentional in the hopes of being more clever than your average show, my fear is without some substantial changes, this production may well be this shows final life.
Killing The Cat plays at Riverside Studios until 22nd April. Tickets from https://riversidestudios.co.uk/killing-the-cat/
Photos by Danny Kaan