By Flossie Waite
Presented by A Thousand Cranes in association with artsdepot
Touring until 13th December 2014
I’ll be honest – I’m wary of theatre adaptations of children’s books. Yes, they’re more financially viable, as parents and children flock to see characters and stories that they already love (and why shouldn’t they?) But this is sometimes at the expense of new writing for children, which gets overshadowed by the latest installment of a play of a book that is also a TV show, a game and a range of toys. It doesn’t always feel like the book is at the heart of the production – rather that it is a limiting factor that has to be referred back to. The text is picked for popularity rather than its readiness for the stage, and the result is theatre for young audiences that is fine but could and should be so much better.
Not so with Me And My Cat? Vicky Ireland’s adaptation is an exceptional example of making the page work for the stage. The highest respect is paid to the picturebook written by Satoshi Kitamura, and the production retains its offbeat humour and quirky aesthetic style.
Me And My Cat? is like a feline Freaky Friday. In Kitamura’s picturebook, Nicholas wakes up to discover that he has changed bodies with his cat Leonardo, experiencing the ups and downs of a day in the life as a moggy. Ireland’s production displays a love for the book, and an intimate knowledge of theatre for children, finding an ingenious solution to presenting the story as a performance. The play is set in the Amazing Kitamura Detective Agency, but Head Detective Satoshi Kitamura is away. When Nicholas rings to ask for help now that he has become a cat, it is up to Kitamura’s assistant, Detective K (Kumiko Mendl), to solve the mystery on her own – and with the help of the audience.
Whenever Nicholas calls Detective K to discuss the case, he appears on a screen through a videophone, allowing Kitamura’s unmistakable illustrations to remain central to the story. The tale is characteristically unpredictable – Detective K pieces the mystery together by way of Benedict Cumberbatch, Pablo Picasso, wearing half a globe on her head, and a vocal cameo from Roger McGough. She couldn’t have done it without her audience assistants, who dutifully remember addresses, search out clues, and form a visual line of enquiry.
The suggested audience age of 6+ may be too high. The reiteration of key facts from the case would be helpful to younger children, but seemed a bit repetitive otherwise. Similarly, Mendl’s very enthusiastic and slightly goofy Detective K can be a bit overbearing at points. Quieter moments, like Detective K drawing Nicholas and Leonardo the cat’s predicament, drop the energy, and there’s an itchiness for the action and investigation to continue.
Crucially, rather than feeling that this production is missing elements from the book, or that it’s exactly the same, the audience feel they have gained something from experiencing the story in this new medium, and that’s exactly how a good adaptation should be. I may be wary of book adaptations for children’s theatre, but Me And My Cat? knocked the chip right off my shoulder.
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