The dimmed lights dimmed further and a small table on stage was lit up. A man and a woman were playing cards and speaking in hushed tones. It took me a few moments to realise that this was a scene from a play and the conversation we were eavesdropping on we were in fact meant to be eavesdropping on. Then a tall, striking woman (Lola Peploe) in an extraordinary outfit with high, hooped shoulder pads drifted on and started rubbing her hands and soliloquizing intensely. It could only have been Lady Macbeth, and indeed this was a scene from ‘The Scottish Play’. Although the players proceeded gamely, sadly it was not to be. This was the weakest link of the evening, and not because the talent was in any way inferior. The scene, robbed of its context, revolved feebly and then collapsed. I understood the intention of mixing theatre into the proceedings but unfortunately, in this instance, it simply didn’t work.
The next act, however, revived things completely like a shot in the arm. After a faulty start when they struggled for some moments to find the correct cable for her guitar, Anneka Williams – a blues singer from London – launched headfirst into a gutsy rendition of Memphis Minnie’s ‘In My Girlish Days’. With her howling vocals and the foot stamping work of her troubadours, this was defiant, rock and roll infused blues that walloped you in the gut. When they had finished and the music still dripped from the girders, I felt I had been beaten up. In a good way, of course.
Once again the show changed tack. The two Cats who next glided on stage were internationally renowned tango dancers Alexandra Wood and Pablo Garcia. Miss Wood, with her flaunting curves, nipped waist and arching neck, had an astonishing Jessica Rabbit way about her while Mr Garcia, with his pin-stripe suit and low hairline, looked like a toe-tapping extra from ‘Guys and Dolls’. The dancing was thrilling, combining the key tango ingredients – extreme physical adroitness with lashings of sensuality. One almost had to hold one’s breath. My only complaint was that because of the positioning of the stage and the seating, they were almost completely obscured from the waist down, which in a dance as foot-centric as the tango, is practically criminal.
‘There is a Garden’ (‘Parisian Chanson’) was penned by the Grande Fromage herself, Madame Ashtiany (as was the next and final one) and was sung by an unassuming slip of a girl, Linn Carin Dirdal, from Norway. Together with her band, including Anja McCloskey on accordion, they made a decent fist of a tune which swung from French to English. For my money though, it was a little bit too knowing, a little bit too self-consciously redolent of smoky cafes and Edith Piaf and sepia prints of Paris to be entirely credible.
For the finale was an aptly chosen grand slam. The strangely appellated ‘Bunny Ban’ consisted of long and angular David O’Sullivan on vocals, and a host of protean and extremely talented musicians making up the rest of the band, including Alex Ward on saxophone. Initially I took O’Sullivan, in appearance and performance (but admittedly not in voice) for Suede’s Brett Anderson. Like the latter’s curious use of his rump as cymbal for his tambourine, O’Sullivan had an eccentric way of holding his microphone – twisted in his fist and stuck out at right angles to his face. At first I found this, and some of his other mannerisms, off-putting, but I was soon swallowed by the sound which was voluminous, thunderous and entirely original, and the performances which were almost brutally intense and full of fire. The saxophonist, particularly during his solo, seemed as though he was engaged in an almost physical assault on the audience. I couldn’t say exactly what type of music this was; the programme notes that O’Sullivan has explored “a wide range of styles, including neo-classical composition, progressive psychedelic rock, free-form improvisation and ethereal pop.” Quite. There was probably a good deal more in the mix even than this, including, I would venture to say, some hard rock, and the pounding insolence of heavy metal.
And that was it. A blushing Miss Ashtiany was hauled on stage to mumble a few triumphant words and then I was out into the cold, be-hatted and neckerchiefed against the inclemency of your English weather. So what of the actual results of this Meeting of Cats? Interesting? Most definitely. Fascinating? In stretches. Entertaining? Yes, and I enjoyed myself. All in all a valiant effort; although it only worked fully in parts, it was more than a curate’s egg as those parts that didn’t quite fly were good and of value in themselves. But it needs refining, The Cats Meet, enlarging here, cutting there, perhaps extending overall. But then what would I know, simple boy from Delhi that I am? If it had been a sitar jam – well, then I could possibly tell you a thing or two…
No animals (feline or otherwise) were harmed in the writing of this article.
The Cats Meet Show will appear at the Barbican as part of their Christmas Lates Event on December 17th from 8.30pm-9.50pm. The venue is The Fountain Room on the ground floor. The show is free and everyone is welcome, but please be aware that the venue is small so please arrive early to secure a place.
The Cats Meet Show are also due to feature at the Latitude Festival 2011.