Dr Seuss’s timeless classic, The Cat in the Hat, is open to several interpretations. Our bedtime rendition for Austin usually involves a fast and frantic tumble through Seuss’s glorious, simple words. The televised version turns it into a jolly, and comfortingly homely jape.
The team behind Greenwich Theatre’s Cat in the Hat, on the other hand, have come up with a performance that is mischievous and lugubrious in turn. At times it even borders on the Burtonesque.
When I read that the National Theatre of Great Britain’s original production had been adapted by Katie Mitchell, a devotee of modern dance legend Pina Bausch, I was anticipating lots of interpretative leaping and bounding.
Instead, under Paul Taylor-Mills and Lillie Collier’s direction, these actors played the few characters with taut panache. Ashley Bates was a Cat who oversaw proceedings with stately poise rather than madcap zinginess. There were moments, with his whitened face and tubby midriff, when he seemed more avuncular ghost than lithe, playful feline.
Paul Cleveland’s Fish also helped set a melancholic undertone to the performance, when he took his mournful rubber-features out into the audience near the beginning of the show and showered all the little-‘uns with bubbles (much to their delight).
These two performances were a perfect foil to the merriment and whizz introduced when Thing One and Thing Two burst onto the scene. I tried (and failed) to resist the urge to think ‘Jimmie Krankie on speed’ while watching their little be-wigged heads bobbing around the stage; Jill Regan and Andrew Beckett played a couple of delightful, endearing creatures who had my son Austin in stitches.
As did the segments that were dramatically slowed down, and a sequence at the beginning where the Cat kept dropping his juggling balls. (This went on for a bit too long, I felt; but the children around me were falling about with laughter, so who am I to judge?)
The set and costumes were simple; perfectly in keeping with the style of the book’s illustrations. At 40 minutes, the performance wasn’t too long for youngsters’ attention spans (although I did feel a little bereft when Thing One and Thing Two were bustled back into their box, and Cat sped off in his car).
A song or two wouldn’t have gone amiss, but the audience-cast interaction was perfect for this kind of story. The wry slapstick provided enough of a spectacle to keep the children focused on the stage and in their seats (except during bubble time, when Austin begged to be allowed to jump around).
When I asked him what he thought of The Cat in the Hat, his first response was ‘funny’.
Not outrageously so, in my opinion. But then, I’m not a four-year-old boy. And it’s good to have a little nod to the dark side every now and then.
Picture credit: Garry Lake
Disclosure: I was given two press tickets to see The Cat in the Hat. But all views expressed are my own.
Don’t forget to check out our guide to the best theatres for kids in London.