For those of you who have ever met us at a press event, you will know that where ever Rhys Reviews goes usually the famous Aunty Chris is nearby! The iconic pairing have graced the stage of a plethora of press nights for new plays, musicals and experience across wales but have yet to make a combined international journey. A few years ago we sat down to plan a journey to one of the world’s best hubs for new musicals, the Edinburgh fringe festival, but COVID quickly put a stop to our plan by preventing travel abroad! Now that restrictions have been lifted, this would have been the perfect opportunity to attend the festival … but unfortunately, I am spending the summer travelling around Hungary (with the first blog in the series available at https://rhysreviews.com/2022/07/26/hungary-2022-part-one/) teaching English to the year people out there. Like I said this planning meeting was the closest we have come to a fringe performance … until now! One of the few good things to come out of the COVID restrictions is the fact that many productions are now more aware of the importance of filming productions so that anyone from any geographical location can watch the show. Thanks to Linus Karp and his team we were able to watch the brand new theatrical experience “How to Live a Jellicle Life” ahead of its arrival at the Edinburgh fringe festival from the 15th of August! In fact, we were able to actually sit down and chat with Linus about the creation of his show and the journey to the fringe which you can watch at https://youtu.be/4fVPCQRVKQc and if you are not already subscribed to our channels you can do so at https://youtube.com/channel/UCHSoxy7Iw6ru0P6mUFOr2iw where you can watch over thirty interviews with musical creatives from all over the world!
The first thing to be aware of when walking into production of “How to live a Jellicle Life” is that it is a direct response to the global rejection 2019 movie adaptation of cats. The star-studded cast of the movie (including James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Dame Judy Dence and Jason Derulo) created possibly one of the most poorly received movies that I can remember which received major backlash from media critics in modern cinema. As the classic saying goes “there is always rain before the rainbow” and in this case the form is a terribly animated movie and the metaphorical rainbow is a ted talk from a queer cat! The idea is actually acknowledged within the show where Linus likens the cat’s movie remake to an extremely traumatic experience. Linus discussed the sense of togetherness that is experienced after a terrorist attack which helps to maintain bring the audience into an almost therapy session to get over how terrible this movie was which, when combined with the intimacy of the show, draws the audience into the centre of the show! This production does not take on the form of a traditional play but instead is an almost presentation style format with Linus donning his unique ‘cat’-suit while navigating a PowerPoint which documents the life lessons that could be taken away from the cats adaptation. I do have to say however that it is very clearly a production for a more mature audience as it contains strong language and sexual references throughout and so not everyone who “enjoyed” the film will be able to experience this reflection on the show but those who can will be in hysterics throughout!
The show opens in a rather unique way with a collection of negative Reddit comments in a very energetic song which is a clever nod the to poor reception the new movie experienced. The extension of negative press from the movie helps to draw direct connections to the movie so draws on those who had experienced it but also is a very striking way to open a show for those who have not. Linus’ production has a clever way of presenting the plot of Cats while also managing to diving deeper into the more complex ideas such as the term “Jellicle” (hence the name of the play) and the “Heaviside layre.” It is almost as of this play is a complimentary guide to help understand the plot of cats, which has historically been very confusing for some people. Linus has created a show that breaks down the more confusing elements of the musical/movie in a way that is easy to understand and cleverly ties these ideas to modern-day events. As well as discussing the star-studded cast of the cats movie, Linus introduced a pool of familiar faces into the pool of references in his play. There are hilarious moments when viral sounds involving Gemma Collins and Katie Price being shunned by Dame Jude Dench’s quotes from the movie, there is an acknowledgement of the James Corden controversy (of him being cast in every possible musical adaptation), a brilliantly funny moment when WAP begins to play as a reference to a pussy-cat being thrown into the Thames as well as references to Brexit, the current Tory government, media bias and obviously the cat’s movie itself! There is a series of jokes that highlight Linus’ own personal love for Jason Derulo (who stars in the movie as Rum Tum Tugger) where he relatively discusses the sexiness of the role which is quite meta as it has been stated that certain parts of Jason had to be photoshopped smaller when filming as the outfits were a bit too tight!
As well as a pseudo-social commentary, “How to live a Jellicle life” is mainly about having a fun time. In the aforementioned interview between myself and Linus we discussed how important it is right now for the world to simply relax and be entertained (which is quite contradictory when you consider the fact that I am reviewing this show especially when you consider the fact that Linus actually talks about the negative side of press within his show!) Towards the earlier part of the show, Linus shares a Jellicle name generator where viewers need to locate their initials and birthdate to create a Jellicle name. For this who are interested, we will now only be referred to as Gritzelbow bottom the Christmas cake! This was not the only interactive game however as he led the audience in a rather unique game of “siblings or lovers” and “napoleon of what” game that had people shouting responses out constantly. I will say that these segments were extremely short and so I personally was not able to fully involve myself but I understand, from a fringe directorial perspective, why these needed to be shorter. One of my favourite moments throughout the show occurred when Linus began to try and explain the heavy side layer where he delivered a medley of camp classics which said anything and absolutely nothing at the same time. This fun intermission (most of which are songs I listen to usually) helped added to the idea of mystery surrounding the cats plot while also adding of relief from the presentation format. This show also contained a series of proactive photos of Linus himself (which made sense within the narrative) but praise must be given for him to be able to stand on stage and share some of his more revealing photos to a crowd of strangers!
Overall, this unique theatre experience aims to help break down the successful and unsuccessful concepts of the poorly received cats movie with a heavy focus on enjoyment and fun. I am not aware of any singular person who would be able to don the iconic catsuit and perform this type of show apart from the wonderfully eccentric Linus Karp who has clearly embedded this show with his own personality and love of the original movie! I think that this style of the show would perfectly in venues such as Chapter arts centre as the theatre professionals and fanatics alike would enjoy a critique of the movie and the intimate staging means the show could easily be transferred anywhere! I would rate this production 4 out of 5 stars!