Set in a plaster Italy hinting at the splendour of The Light in the Piazza, this new musical – receiving its world premiere – is about faith vs science.
Maggie (Madelena Alberto) is a famous writer taking a hreak. Luke (Tim Rogers) is a bit of rough who found mysticism but no real answers.
Also in Livorno are a young couple of friends:; Heather (Molly Lynch) is obsessed with dead poets; Connor (Joaquin Pedro Valdes, in a sadly underwritten, ‘doubting Thomas’ role) with finding ‘certainty’.
There are also two other characters: both peripheral and both played by Kluane Saunders, I am not sure why they are here other than presenting a sibling bond for both Maggie and Luke.
Stuffed full of musical interludes rather than a traditional score of full-bloodied songs, Killing the Cat has potential on the page but doesn’t quite get there – it could also do with a trim in running time.
Alberto displays strong vocals throughout, but her character isn’t likeable, and the holiday romance seems to turn serious too soon.
Rogers’s Luke is the typical mystic of the mountaintop, but he spouts too many f-words and just doesn’t ring true. He gets his chance to shine now and again, but his motivation is weak.
Lynch does a good job with Heather, the girl with her head in the clouds but her feet on the ground. She is a younger counterpoint to the religious man, and I felt her character was the most interesting.
While Killing the Cat could work just as well without the songs and in any location, it is an Italian-set musical, and so should elicit a certain atmosphere and response.
With book and lyrics by Warner Brown and music by Joseph Schmidt, this score is powered by an on-stage band of keys, cello, and percussion.
The blurb of Killing the Cat promises “musical theatre like you’ve never seen before,” “if Adam Guettel [Light in the Piazza composer] and Tom Waits had a baby” and their approach has a certain uniqueness.
There are two moments I did like very much; an act one absurdity, “The Chemical Brain”, detailing the realities of science; act two’s “On Such A Full Sea” piece of choral beauty which almost leads to a happy ending.
I just feel the book has a weakness that is never quite fixed, and the nuggets that might make this show more palatable are too few and far between.
Killing the Cat (directed by Jenny Eastop) continues at Riverside Studios until 22 April: tickets here.
Photo credit: Danny Kaan