Stories from the West End

It was the return to stage after 6 months of lockdown in London and the Mampara Dance Company finally got the chance to bring Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic CATS on stage at The Sainsbury Theatre in Hammersmith.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many members of the original cast had dropped out reducing the numbers from 70 to 17. “We kept on rehearsing via Zoom but it just isn’t the same as being in the studio. The smaller cast caused many changes, but we are happy to finally perform CATS for an audience. It’s been too long.”, says choreographer and founder of Mampara Dance, Natalie Hunt.

The performance was supposed to happen in May 2020, but the pandemic had caused a disruption. The most enthusiastic students in Natalie’s class were now determined to start the new term with a bang. A whole weekend was dedicated to bringing CATS on stage.

Sing and dance like a pro

The whole cast was busy rehearsing when I entered the Sainsbury Theatre that Sunday around lunch time. The cast consists of Natalies’ dance students, the youngest are still in elementary school and Natalie knows how to create a composition on stage with dancers of different ages and heights.

One of the adult dancers was sitting in the first row of the theatre, her foot rested on a pile of suitcases. At first, she seemed to just take a break, but soon I realized that she was in tears. She had injured her carve. The disappointment about not being able to dance was stronger than the pain at that moment.

On the left side is a foot resting on a pile of suitcases. The right of the image shows the stage in the background and people walking. They're not recognizable due to motion blur.

Catherine Coup resting her injured leg on a pile of suitcases. (c) Julia-Carolin Zeng.

Some of the others occasionally came to hug her. In any professional cast, there would be a substitute. There was nobody though who could replace Catherine on stage that day and she had to play an important part: she was supposed to sing Memory and play the part of Grizabella in CATS. What an irony when they realized that exactly the same had happened to Judi Dench in the original cast for CATS on Broadway in 1981. Dench had snapped her Achilles tendon during rehearsals and could no longer perform.

That Sunday afternoon though at The Sainsbury Theatre in London, Catherine was very brave and delivered an outstanding performance on the microphone in the song Memory. The audience did not notice that she had been injured. It wasn’t on Broadway, but everybody has shown true professionalism on stage that day.

Can you do the Tap?

Catherine sang, but she wasn’t able to dance. For some of the songs, Natalie had to change the positioning on stage, but Catherine had a solo part that wasn’t easy to replace. Nobody else could learn the tap solo in a few hours. An alternative was needed. I wonder what Andrew Lloyd Webber would say if he saw a group of young dancers kneeling on the floor embedding the cup song in CATS. I’ll ask him should I ever get the chance!

For me, it was certainly an exciting day to see a group of dancers bring CATS on stage, sticking their heads together to find solutions, giving their all on stage. It was an emotional experience after 6 months of lockdown and occasionally, somebody would burst out in tears. I guess that’s normal when doing art. The socially distanced audience was stunned by a convincing performance of dancers of all ages and levels and I got a true look behind the scenes.