Theatre I missed: Space Cats (Theatre review)
Sometimes I see performances and for various reasons are not able to review within the limited run of the show. If the show is something special, I still like to write about it – even if I’m playing catch up.
Photo Credits Andre Vasquez
“If you were a Jew in the period when the trains were running too Auschwitz, your chances of being hidden by your gentile neighbours were greater if you lived in Denmark or Italy than if you lived in Belgium.” Richard Rorty – Contingency, Irony and solidarity.
It’s easy to describe the above phenomenon as saying many Danes and Italians showed a sense of human solidarity which many Belgium’s lacked. This then allows room for us to describe the Belgians and, for example the guards at Auschwitz, as inhuman because they did not exhibit this mystical component which is essential to being a fully fledged human being. For those of us who don’t want to presume there is an arbitrary definition of “human” or “inhuman” these kinds of upheavals in human history present a challenge because at times like these, and like the dictatorial rule of Queen Cat (Eliza Reilly) in Space Cats, we like to think there is a stable, long-term pattern of behaviour that stands beyond history and institutions that will hold us together. A form of human solidarity that will get us through eventually to the survival of our common humanity. Beliefs rather than institutions.
As writer Samantha Young highlights for us in her great musical Space Cats, a belief can hold its own power, can regulate action, can be a thought worth dying for, without the provocative safety of a nostalgic view of history. Without there needing to be a right or a wrong to justify it, an idea, or a belief in how we should treat each other is worth risking everything for; even if it didn’t come from God or Capitalism, Evolution or Nostalgia. Instead the basis for this belief comes from an imaginative identification with the details of one another’s lives rather than a need for something ancendentally shared.
The problem with using the notion of solidarity as if it were a product of a mystical aspect of the human being, is its immediate construct of the non-human who is acting supposedly against solidarity. But they form their own solidarity, only it has to be made up of the wrong sort of human beings. Here in lies the clever soul at the heart of Space Cats. Bin Cat (Samantha Young) and Laika (Graeme McRae) are rescued because solidarity is a preferred belief to the self-serving and non-benevolent dictatorship of Queen Cat. Their freedom is an act of solidarity on behalf of the idea that we all benefit if we form a society that serves each of us as equals. This is the solidarity carefully fought against by the totalitarian government in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. When the Australian government cut international aid, they did not say “We can’t afford this level of financial aid in our attempts to display solidarity,” They said the money would be better going to poor Australians, thereby transferring the sense of solidarity to one of nationality rather than retaining the belief that all human suffering should be alleviated.
Therefore the message of Space Cats remains, when we think of human solidarity it does not want to come from a shared humanity, ie the things we have in common, but rather an imaginative idea that stems from the consequences of the action and our empathy with the results of those actions. Bruno (Jonny Hawkins) and Mars (Gautier Pavlovic-hobba) don’t want to help Bin Cat and Laika because they have a shared humanity. They do it because they recognise that suffering could happen to them and therefore they don’t want it to happen to anyone. This is an unfashionable position in contemporary culture, because we prefer to think of moral development as a rational and enlightened position, rather than pity or remorse for cruelty. In this way we have made morality a thing that needs to be justified by a strong rational argument while the emotional motives for not being cruel become dubious and second-rate. Morality then, becomes something distinct from the ability to notice and identify with pain and humiliation. And herein lies Samantha Young’s point. Solidarity doesn’t have to be a connection based on a spurious or mystical human element, or the perpetual search for common ground and they way we are all the same. Forging solidarity through the will to not seeing anyone hurt or humiliated in any way is enough to commit to, act upon and even die for.
All this complex morality is cushioned by a delightful production that is as much a witty piss-take on the (in)famous Andrew Lloyd Webber long running musical as it is its own special brand of cheeky fun. It’s a Samantha Young show, as she writes directs and performs the role of Bin Cat, but she’s made plenty of room for the countless other talents her witty production has inspired. Of note are musical director and composer Matthew Predny who brings Young’s vision to life through great musical numbers performed to perfection by Young’s talented cast. Equally Matt Cornell creates cat-like dances and movement for the eager cast who flamboyantly engage in their feline roles having a ton of fun as they do so. this enthusiastic fun is held tight by a vibrantly colourful, visually thrilling set and lighting display by Ben Brockman that transports the audience with its audacity. High production values and a great cast make Space Cats one of the stand out shows of the Sydney 2016 calendar and a certainty for future performances. If you get the chance to see a future production of Space Cats, make sure you get there.