Reopening the Soho Theatre following a prolonged pandemic closure is feat enough in itself, but to do so with a production that requires as much technical skill as some of the online work we’ve seen in recent months is a marvel. Lucinda Coxon’s Herding Cats is brought to us by New York based OHenry Productions and Stellar, and blends live in-person theatre with a live performance from the US.
The simple, but effective, set is dominated by a light wall, pulsating hypnotically before the drama unfolds. It emanates a funky soundtrack, the kind that might be found in a trendy Soho wine bar, but the up-tempo euphoria it evokes belies the darkness to be found in the flat shared by Justine and Michael.
There are in effect, two parallel stories which occasionally intertwine for dramatic, and sometimes comedic effect. On one hand Justine’s problems at work, and her developing feelings for a male colleague feel like the b-plot, but the themes often help us find a balance, and view the ‘main’ plot differently.
The storyline that audiences of Herding Cats are unlikely to forget revolves around Michael, and his job. Confined to home for medical reasons, we know he had a promising role in the corporate world at one time, but now spends his days speaking to men for cash.
Michael is simply “acting a role” as far as he’s concerned, that role however is of a young girl, and the men he speaks to are paying to indulge in despicable fantasies. While Michael is reluctant to share the details of calls with Justine, he does open up about ‘Saddo’ the only one of his callers the audience meets. “No-one gets hurt” says Michael, but the way he manipulates his caller, and indeed his flatmate, tells us that quite the opposite is true.
While Jassa Ahluwalia (Michael) and Sophie Melville (Justine) appear live on stage, present only via video link is Greg Germann, probably most well known for playing Richard Fish on the American comedy drama, Ally McBeal. Germann takes on the role of Saddo, and imbues him with a cold sadness that seems to drive the evil within.
Anthony Banks’ direction keeps pace with Coxon’s dynamic writing, shocking and intriguing the audience simultaneously. The subject matter is dark and deeply disturbing, but moments of brevity creep in, giving some respite from the onslaught of dismay.
Blending live performances on both sides of the Atlantic is no easy task, but with Herding Cats the team have pulled it off beautifully, right down to the curtain call, while all three cast members give first rate performances. For many, Herding Cats will be no easy watch, but as a piece of drama it is astounding it its ability to unsettle its audience, while drawing them ever deeper in to a murky world.