Oow could anyone forget Judith Kerr’s Mog, egg-eating, thwarting burglars and fearing the VET? Hairy in the tail and white in the paws, with expectant eyes and an affectionate smile, she waited more than 50 years for her stage debut. Luckily, it’s theatrical catnip: a delightful hour that adds songs to Kerr’s stories and is enhanced by an eerily 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 can 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 setKerr’s Mog – co-produced with London’s Old Vic and Northampton’s Royal and Derngate – pays homage to Kerr’s blend of warm humour, surreal daydreaming and sweet fuss.
Laura McEwen’s set design, which has a crayon and crayon effect, presents the Thomas family home like a cutaway dollhouse, complete with flowers to step on and a chair to shred. A superfluous pet store scene with audience interaction blocks the first few minutes, but once Kamen passes through the cat flap, the show takes off. With clever motion direction of Catherine GilesKamen meows, struts and prowls at the continued affection and exasperation of the family.
There’s an inevitably episodic narrative, but the stories are interspersed with lyrical observations of the changing seasons, and the show gives a vivid sense of not only Mog’s dream world but also The Others: Debbie’s Tiger’s Nightmare echoes the restless night of a veterinarian, haunted by visions of sick pandas and crocodiles.
Composer Joey Hickman, who provides onstage accompaniment, spins “Mind That Cat!” in a catchy chorus, gives Mr. Thomas an affectionate ode to his favorite chair, and perfects a mock opera motif to match Mog’s outrage at any change in his routine. A song-and-dance routine at a cat show, which brings in more crowdwork with young audiences, is starting to drag, but Jesse Jones and Helena Middleton’s production has plenty of ingenuity. Actors wear double-sided costumes in a scene to switch between the roles of pets and their owners.
The palpable on-stage bond within the company, common in Armguard Ensemble shows, helps make this a warm portrait of family life and, of course, the cat’s place within it – whether on the most comfortable chair or under your feet.