Three young, narrow lads wandered onto stage in caps, coats, ties and waistcoats, bearing with them a distinct whiff of the Sixties. This was ‘The Shoestrung’, an English rock band. They played one song, and if I might slip into the vernacular to describe it, they rocked. The Sixties infused not just their look, but their sound, which brought to mind the melodies, energy and narrative lyricism of bands like ‘The Rolling Stones’ and ‘The Kinks’. I’d venture to say that they brought their own ingredients to the mix though, something modern and original.
The next act was very different (as indeed were all the acts, deafeningly so). It was the inimitable Laura Dockrill – stage poetess, crowned queen of spoken word. She began by sweetly and generously thanking a gentleman draped in a fur stole for making the floral patterned dress she was enveloped in, which billowed out around her like an outsized windsock. It occurred to me (and a brief scan of the programme notes confirmed this) that The Cats Meet consisted not only of the visible performing cats, but of a whole roster of unseen ‘groomers’ – designers, stylists and artists. Almost every outfit had been specially commissioned, even down to footwear and ‘hair ornaments’. It really was quite a production.
Anyway, after this appreciative aside, Miss Dockrill shrieked, whined and crooned her way through two poems dissecting (literally in one case) the thorny nature of love and relationships. The telling was everything and in this she was a master – part riffing stand-up, part bizarre performance artiste. Although I lost the thread at points along the way, it was quite unique and most entertaining.
Layla Sayal was next on with that most enigmatic and curious of instruments, the theramin, whose trembling melodies and unearthly volutes brought to mind the crying of souls in Purgatory. My first reaction was to sit up sharply, so unfamiliar was the sound (although I admit there was a fleeting resemblance to my beloved sitar). After I had caught hold of it and mentally categorised it I thought of its uses; as film score it would have been perfect, so atmospheric and evocative was it – almost like musical sound effects. After that, I confess, I was rather waiting for it to end and the next act to begin. It lacked the punchy entertainment value of the vocal performers. It was a mood piece and required you to lose yourself in it for it to really engage. It needed a much longer set to fully work and this, I think, would be my main criticism of The Cats Meet, that it was more of a tasting menu than a full meal; it flitted like a mayfly when it really needed to alight and develop. A longer show and greater time spent with individual acts would have worked better, as would have a more seamless ‘relay’ between performers cancelling out the staccato Stockhausen effect.
A tiny, perfectly formed Elvin creature climbed onto stage in the company of two much older men. This was Maddie Broad, a folk singer, together with Bryn Hoffman and her father, Mark Broad, on guitar. Almost accidentally they began playing and so Miss Broad began to sing – a clear, beautiful voice with echoes of Joni Mitchell there, and in the lyrics too. Unbelievably, this shy, almost reluctant girl is only sixteen and still at school. The song, the self-penned ‘Mr Umbrella Man’, peaked and finished and the trio were gone but her voice hung in the air. The atmosphere of the room seemed changed. There was surprise and excitement; a buzz.
An older, but still young, lady with strong features dressed in the sworls and slices of a black satin evening dress stalked on and wrapped her legs provocatively around the voluptuous curves of a cello. So began JS Bach’s ‘Movement for Suite No. 3’ as performed by Tatty Theo. Miss Theo was clearly a virtuoso; more, in the swelling and dipping of her shoulders, in the massaging of the fret and sawing of the bow, there was real passion which escalated as the piece surged towards its climax. This was the one set of purely classical music in the evening. It was well chosen because of its drama and immediacy but it suffered, like the Layla Sayal piece, in its close proximity to the more instantly accessible pop acts. Again, it needed more time and space to draw the audience in and to take them to a deeper level.
A long interval followed, just too short to provide enough space for supper but long enough for one to become restless with the hiatus and bored of the small talk of one’s date (of which I was without).