Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 9 – 14, 2019
Playwright: Bess Wohl
Director: Sahn Millington
Cast: Callum Alexander, Jason Blake, Taylor Buoro, Shayne de Groot, Jodine Muir, Daniel Mulholland, Julian Ramundi, David Woodland
Image by Elissa Blake
Not long after the closure of Cats the musical after an 18-year run on Broadway, five of its performers converge at a small panel event, to talk about life on the legendary show, and to relive, quite publicly, their glory days. Bess Wohl’s Cats Talk Back captures a moment of limbo, during which we see people stranded, cut off from the past, yet unable to move forward. The writing is often amusing, if slightly twee and predictable with its comedy.
Directed by Sahn Millington, the production is excessively naturalistic in approach, with a humour that seems needlessly restrained. Actors with a tendency for a more exaggerated style of performance, like Daniel Mulholland and David Woodland, are able to create distinctive characters that add spark to the production, but can also at times, seem discordant with the show’s overall subdued tone. Chemistry between players is hesitant, with each personality taking on separate approaches, unable to establish a cohesive sense of play as an ensemble. Theatre critic Jason Blake presents a version of himself, acting as moderator of the panel, notable for his easy charm and a sardonic timing that delivers several memorable laughs.
Nobody cares about these ex-cats, except the artists themselves. Every human is part of something bigger, but as is so clearly demonstrated in Cats Talk Back, we are almost always interested only in our individual experiences of the world. Narcissism is relentless, and it makes us fail to see that what feels like self-preservation, is actually gradually harming us all. Like characters in the show, we obsess over our little lives, consumed by the anxiety derived from notions of personal inadequacies, of not being loved. We long for personal satisfaction, and spend all our energies in pursuit of an elusive happiness, when it is abundantly clear that there are much more important things to do.