Last weekend we crossed the south/north London divide and braved several changes on the underground to visit the Pleasance Theatre Islington. We made the effort in order to watch The Cat in the Hat, a show first adapted and directed for the National Theatre of Great Britain by Katie Mitchell. This version, directed by Lillie Collier, enjoyed a sell-out run this year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It really was worth the effort.
It was our first visit to the Pleasance and we found a quaint fringe theatre on a pretty mews up some stairs. Inside, it was decorated with fairy lights and, with a warm welcome, we were handed activity packs containing show and cast information, and some activities for kids.
The show started straight away and we were whirled immediately into a real life, three-dimensional cartoon which looked as bright and fun as the illustrations you know from the original 1957 books by Dr Seuss (aka Theodore Seuss Geisel). Or maybe you are more familiar with the 2003 film starring Mike Myers as the Cat, which was criticised by Dr Seuss’s widow and licensor of his works, Audrey Geisel, who then stated that she would not allow any further live action works of Seuss’s stories? Despite this, Horton Hears a Who? and The Lorax were both subsequently approved and produced, both largely to critical acclaim.
As well as the most amazing sets, The Cat in the Hat at the Pleasance also has great costumes too. Unlike the film, which stretched the story to a plot of over 80 minutes, this show remains almost entirely faithful to the original story; the lines are read aloud by the cast to great comic effect. The cast members are all loud, fun, daft and primary-coloured. I felt the Cat possibly lacked one degree of zaniness, but aside from this one niggle, we loved the show, and that’s even with my children being older than the target age-group. It is aimed at 3+, and the audience was largely made up of younger ones. Mine at 7 and 9 didn’t giggle out loud, but they clearly enjoyed it, and I giggled a lot along with the younger audience.
There was also a handful who found it all a bit too in your face and had to be taken away from the front rows, because it really was in your face – real bubbles came out of the ceiling, huge (real) red bouncy balls bounced towards you, just begging for you to bounce them back around the auditorium, and there was frenetic bike riding, the cleaning machine and constant action on stage. I thought the slow motion scenes were really impressive, and they handled the balancing scene really well, where the Cat balances a ball, a cake, a hat, some books etc etc and, on the improbable top of the rake, the fish! Our favourite character was the kill-joy fish, with Hannah Vesty/Jessica Lucy Kent playing the voice of reason, wearing another clever costume and using the fish bowl prop to good effect.
The show is one act of 45 minutes long. In a sentence, a perfect first theatre experience for younger children, and a lot of fun for older family members too. I will leave you with the conspiratorial ending to get you in the mood for its irreverent tone. After a crazy day when the Cat in the Hat has appeared out of nowhere, wreaked havoc and then tidied it all away, the children’s mother returns home:
Then our mother came in
And she said to us two,
“Did you have any fun?
Tell me. What did you do?”
And Sally and I did not know
What to say.
Should we tell her
The things that went on there that day?
Should we tell her about it?
Now, what SHOULD we do?
What would you do
If your mother asked YOU?
Cue much laughing and shouting from the audience: NOOOOO!
The Cat in the Hat plays at the Pleasance London until 4th January 2015. For more information and to book tickets, go to their website at https://www.pleasance.co.uk. Be quick!
Disclosure: We were given free tickets to see The Cat in the Hat for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own.
Photos taken by me, except for the two production photos by Garry Lake.