The world premiere of Killing the Cat arrives at the Riverside studios, but don’t worry no felines were harmed in the making of this production!
With book and lyrics by Warner Brown and music by Joshua Schmidt, this is a sophisticated, grown-up musical, which explores adult relationships under the framework of a, potentially destructive, difference of opinion – in this case, faith and belief versus science.
Maggie (the rather excellent Madalena Alberto) is a biophysicist and famous author, who we first meet during an interview to publicise her new novel “Wired”. The toll of the press rounds and answering the same questions again and again, and on the back of a recent spilt with her husband, leads to friend and ex-sister in law Sheila (played by versatile Kluane Saunders) suggesting a break to Livorno in Italy.
It’s here where she meets, and falls for, Luke (West end heavyweight Tim Rogers) whilst he is selling cabbages in a market and smitten, she buys a bag of vegetables, including of course an eggplant, she doesn’t need. After a couple of dates, it becomes clear that both have feelings for each other, however on learning about Luke’s spiritualism and religious beliefs, Maggie decides to conceal her identity and scepticism in a heart-over-mind decision to pursue a romance with him.
It’s not long before Luke discovers who she is and they begin to question each other’s beliefs. Cleverly their witty, well-crafted scenes are not about confrontation or belittling the other, despite both are portrayed as head strong and unbending in their opinions. It’s about trying to find a weakness in the others view point in order to find common ground, rather than conflict, in a desperate attempt to make a relationship work.
The first act ends on a make-or-break argument, which is picked up at the same point at the beginning of act two. Naturalistic and measured performances from both Madalena Alberto and Tim Rogers, grounds the musical in realism and prevents the scenes between them from being overwrought or shouty. Therefore when emotions are heightened, you share what the characters are feeling and believe their shared turmoil, as they struggle to shape a relationship due to their differences.
In a sub plot, friends American Connor (Joaquin Pedro Valdes) and Irish Heather who are travelling together in Livorno, cross paths with Luke and Maggie when Heather takes them to Luke’s hill top course on spiritual understanding.
Heather (played whimsically by Molly Lynch) is a romantic, who can talk to dead people, more specifically dead poets and literary figures. She is also the only character to be able to see the on stage musicians until the very end, maybe highlighting that she has been the most spiritually aware and balanced of all of them?
Their presence offers a distraction and light relief away from the discussions of faith versus science (the script makes reference to endless questions). Their characters also act as a sounding board for Luke and Maggie, giving them different perspectives for both to make them confront their “certain” view points and hopefully find common ground.
Another break the proceedings is the shows only dance number (complete with dancing scientists), The Chemical Brain, in which Maggie attempts to teach Luke the science behind the workings of the brain and convince him that love is a chemical reaction rather than a gift from god.
Musically the eclectic minimal score by Joshua Schmidt has echoes of Stephen Sondheim, with some electronica, rock and Chinese influences thrown in. All mix well to set the sophisticated mood of the piece, as well as adding interest and at some points some aural surprises! All the cast are strong singers, with each given their moments to shine. Madalena Alberto dazzles within the constraints of the character, as stubborn, self-assured Maggie and her vocals are beautifully lyrical and earnest throughout. Tim Rogers is also well cast to give Luke a relaxed, self-assured and passionate personality, with surprisingly understated, tender vocals. Joaquin Pedro Valdes has a wonderfully smooth tone to his voice, which is displayed during his song I Ask Why, whilst his character is having an existential scare!
If you’re looking for an all-singing, all-dancing musical, then this probably isn’t for you. Aside from the one dance number, coupled with the minimal score and lots of philosophical dialogue, at times it can sometimes feel like a play with music. The white, post-modern set of steps and platforms give director Jenny Eastop the space and height to portray a variety of locations to great effect and are imaginably lit by Jamie Platt. This is needed to elevate the show and prevent it from becoming too static.
If you looking for a thought-provoking, original and grown-up musical, which offers emotion and heart with a classic “will they, won’t they” romantic trope, then Killing The Cat will delight.
Not purr-fect but certainly a musical with intelligence – ★★★★