Belfast Telegraph

Cat review: World of musicals is given a dark twist ... and Gerard makes a song and dance of it

By Simon Fallaha

When two playwrights ever so slightly amend the title of a hugely popular musical and add a blackly comedic slant, you sense that their audience will be treated to something different. In a good way.

And that's exactly what happened with Jamie Beamish and Richard Hardwick's CAT at Newtownabbey's Courtyard Theatre.

A bittersweet, satirical and tuneful dramedy acted, danced and sung to the hilt by Hollyoaks' Gerard McCarthy, the play plunged its audience into a turbulent whirlwind of dark humour, never once letting up its pace.

The pre-show sound of Andrew Lloyd Webber's work - tunefully inconsistent but indelibly earwormy - ensured that anticipation was high and the atmosphere cheery before McCarthy's arrival. What followed did nothing to dampen that mood.

Faced with the challenge of telling a one-man story about "the biggest star that never shone" with musical songs in less than two hours, McCarthy proved more than up to the task.

He played Dave, a familiar down on his luck "artist" with parents who never shared his passion. Breaking free from the shoehorned suffocation of his father's paper business, Dave's aim is to sing and dance his way to success. Or so he hopes...

Dressed as the titular CAT, McCarthy's capacity for expressions and impressions came alive as he relayed the sometimes sorrowful, sometimes silly, yet always highly-strung life of Dave to the audience.

Perpetually eager and enthusiastic, McCarthy's reflective spirit was at times loud, at times amusing, periodically gloomy and even occasionally threatening. But never dull.

If the first half of the play felt as tonally muddled as some of Lord Lloyd Webber's duets, that may have been the point: the writers and McCarthy were reflecting the wise words and misguided insights of a guy who knew the notes but didn't always hear the music.

This was communicated in a combination of show tunes, slapstick and broadly anachronistic puns that surrounded Dave's desperate rants - until the end of Act One, where McCarthy pulled off a Phantom Of The Opera-esque showstopper that left people keen for more.

From this moment on, the quality of the production elevated. The satire of the musical industry became more pointed, the laughs more frequent and the presence of McCarthy more prominent.

A quirky, sometimes awkwardly funny and always appealing package of mime, melody and movement, CAT offered something for just about everyone - even a darkly unexpected conclusion.

Four stars

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