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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Chris Wiegand

Mog the Forgetful Cat review – a miaow-vellous musical treat

 Mog The Forgetful Cat at Royal and Derngate, Northampton.
Preening and prowling … Hanora Kamen as Mog. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

Who could forget about Judith Kerr’s egg-eating, burglar-foiling, V.E.T.-fearing Mog? Fuzzy of tail and white of paw, with expectant eyes and loving smile, she has waited more than 50 years for her stage debut. Happily it is theatrical catnip: a delightful hour that adds songs to Kerr’s stories and is elevated by an uncannily feline performance from Hanora Kamen.

Mog, Kerr told readers, didn’t like things to be exciting: “She liked them to be the same.” Her fans may agree when it comes to adaptations. Kerr’s elegant tale The Tiger Who Came to Tea has already been turned into a boisterous musical that roars rather than purrs. But the Wardrobe Ensemble’s Mog – co-produced with London’s Old Vic and Northampton’s Royal and Derngate – honours Kerr’s blend of warm humour, surreal reverie and gentle rumpus.

Laura McEwen’s set design, which has a coloured pencil and crayon effect, presents the Thomas family home as a cutaway doll’s house, with flowers to be trampled on and an armchair to be shredded. A superfluous pet-shop scene with audience interaction stalls the opening minutes but once Kamen has come through the cat flap the show takes off. With astute movement direction from Catriona Giles, Kamen mewls, preens and prowls to the family’s continuous affection and exasperation.

Mog – the Forgetful Cat designed by Laura McEwen.
Theatrical catnip …Mog the Forgetful Cat, designed by Laura McEwen. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

There is an unavoidably episodic narrative but the stories are interspersed with lyrical observations on the changing seasons and the show gives a vivid sense not just of Mog’s dreamworld but the others’ too: Debbie’s nightmare of a tiger is echoed by a vet’s restless night, haunted by visions of poorly pandas and crocodiles.

Composer Joey Hickman, who provides onstage accompaniment, turns “bother that cat!” into a catchy chorus, gives Mr Thomas a loving ode to his favourite chair and perfects a mock-operatic motif to match Mog’s outrage at any change to her routine. A song-and-dance routine at a cat show, which brings more crowdwork with the young audience, begins to drag but Jesse Jones and Helena Middleton’s production has plenty of ingenuity. Actors wear two-sided costumes in one scene to switch between the roles of pets and their owners.

The palpable onstage bond within the company, common in Wardrobe Ensemble shows, helps to make this a warm-hearted portrait of family life and, of course, the cat’s place within it – whether on the comfiest chair or under your feet.

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