Date 21st February 2019
Society Stage One Youth Theatre Group
Venue Ferneham Hall, Fareham
Type of Production Musical
Director Jacqui Ivemy
Musical Director Dennis Brombley
Choreographer Matt Newman


Author: Mark Donalds

Wow! No, that’s not enough, I’ll say it again, bigger: WOW!!! It’s not often that you leave a theatre feeling exhilarated, but this was one of those rare occasions. The tremendous energy, vitality and enthusiasm of this young cast just flowed across the footlights to the very receptive audience, in one of the most impressive productions I’ve seen in an awfully long time.

Cats, based on T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” is one of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s longest running musicals. It has no plot to speak of, is sung-through (so no dialogue either), has some fiendishly difficult lyrics and music for the cast (and orchestra) to master, and performances from theatre greats like Elaine Paige and Betty Buckley to live up to. What a challenge! But Stage One took it in their stride and, thanks to firm direction from Jacqui Ivemy, inventive and detailed choreography from Matt Newman, they emerged triumphant. This was the first time I’d seen Cats and what an introduction it proved to be!

Take a big bow Wardrobe Mistress Bethany Baker. What a fabulous picture you conjured up with the costumes and wigs. Praise too for the Havant and South Downs College students for the makeup – it’s a major undertaking to achieve a different look for every member of this huge cast (40+), and they all looked fantastic. A great set and magical lighting completed the picture. The sound was crystal clear – vital when there is no dialogue – and the orchestra, under the assured baton of Dennis Brombley was perfectly balanced and never overwhelmed the singers.

Every single member of this huge cast played their part to perfection. The singing was top-notch with ultra-clear diction. Characterisation was superb, and was well maintained throughout the show – everyone was doing something interesting even when the focus of attention was elsewhere. The dancing and movement had obviously been very well rehearsed and Matt Newman’s intelligent choreography gave each cast member the fluid, graceful, athletic movements that we associate with cats.

I debated whether to single out individuals for praise because the show as a whole was so good, but there were some exceptional performances that I’d like to mention briefly. Hope and Eden Hillier-Smith were a remarkable double-act, Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaze, exuberant and full of confidence. Charles Clark gave a mesmerising and balletic performance as Mistoffelees – what a superb dancer and such stage presence!  Milo Baker ably demonstrated his rich singing voice and vocal dexterity as Old Deuteronomy, and Isobel Griggs brought thoughtful characterisation and a beautiful singing voice to Grizabella. Jack Edwards gave a spirited and charismatic performance as Skimbleshanks and Brandon Cable-Rogers totally nailed the character of Gus the Theatre Cat, wringing every last ounce of emotion from the song and staying in character to the very end. I’m just sorry I can’t mention everyone – you were all tremendous.

An enormous amount of effort had obviously gone into making this show, both on stage and behind the scenes. Great attention to detail had been paid to characterisation, diction, singing and movement during rehearsal, and this has really paid dividends. Stage One, you should be mightily proud of this incredible production – I look forward to seeing how you can top it with your next show!