Tuesday, May 28

Killing the Cat – Riverside Studios

Can music and speech give fundamental answers to the questions that seem impossible to answer? Can we address the whys and what for of our existence through sound and bodies?

Killing the Cat, the new musical with book and lyrics by Warner Brown and music by Joshua Schmidt, undertakes a very ambitious task, both dealing with very complex and interesting topics, while trying to develop a new and unique language in musical theatre. While the play does not reach those goals, it is undoubtedly a refined clockwork, performed with exquisite harmony.

When going into the hall, the audience is met by a beautiful white set, designed by Lee Newby, where lights and colours designed by Jamie Platt will combine during the play, joining the music to display the different stages through which the characters will live their experiences. The direction by Jenny Eastop makes great use of the levels and spaces created by the stairs and arches in the set, and the feeling of depth, even in a rather small stage such as this, was surprising.

The first characters to go into stage are the three musicians that will play along during the performance: Billy Bullivant, credited for the keys but also conducting, Robert Jane in the drums, and Georgia Morse in the cello. After that, Conner, played by Joaquin Pedro Valdes, and Heather, by Molly Lynch, step into the room, and the transition into the world the piece is showcasing is done in a subtle and smooth way, with Lynch singing as if talking, talking as if singing, introducing us to Livorno, Italy, where the rest of the action will take place.

After that first introduction, Maggie, played by Madalena Alberto, goes between singing and talking almost seamlessly, making use of a very smart theatrical device to show her thoughts and feelings. Sheila and Paula, the two characters played Kluane Saunders, although less dramatically relevant for the action, give us the chance to enjoy the voice of Saunders, particularly when she sings “You fancy him”. It was an immense pleasure to see even the musicians enjoying that particular number, full of humor. Finally, Luke, played by Tim Rogers, is a weirdly irrelevant character, considering how well the actor portrayed it.

And so, there comes the problem with the play: the stakes are very low. Skillfully written by Brown, the story flows very well, showing us the romance of Maggie with Luke, and how they fall in love despite their apparently unresolvable differences. It should work, but it doesn’t. The story tries to tackle important existential questions, but it goes about it in a simplistic and discursive way, where a childish summer romance between two adults seems to be lacking any importance. The points of view of both characters, although very fun, seem a bit unidimensional and lacking depth. And it’s quite tragic, in a piece with such good performances, staging and music. It’s also incomprehensible, given that the stream of the story is so smooth, and the two other characters, Heather and Connor, are so interestingly ambiguous and full of life.

The piece is a gem of a performance, discussing a very interesting topic, although through two main characters that inspire very little empathy.

Playing until 22nd April, https://riversidestudios.co.uk/see-and-do/killing-the-cat-58461/

Reviewer: Gonzalo Alfredo Sentana

Reviewed: 22nd March 2023

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★