'Mog the Forgetful Cat' review — a heartwarming ode to cat owners everywhere
Read our review of Mog the Forgetful Cat, the stage adaption of Judith Kerr's 1970 children's book, in performances to 29 July at The Old Vic.
Best known for The Tiger who Came to Tea, beloved author and illustrator Judith Kerr also created a more down-to-earth and routine-loving feline in her series of around 20 Mog stories based on her own family cat. The first, Mog the Forgetful Cat, was published in 1970, and the nonlinear series continued until shortly before Kerr’s death, aged 95 in 2019.
A large grey and white-striped tabby with a rather solemn expression, Mog – belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Thomas and their children Debbie and Nicky – is both staid and quirky. She is fond of boiled eggs and has a habit of licking Debbie’s hair while asleep. As Kerr put it so perfectly, "Mog didn’t like things to be exciting. She liked them to be the same." Most cats would agree, and quite a few children too.
The Wardrobe Ensemble have collectively adapted this production for ages 3+ from the title story, Mog and the Vee Eee Tee, and Mog’s Bad Thing. Helena Middleton and Jesse Jones direct this hourlong show, featuring jaunty tunes by Joey Hickman, making it episodic by nature. Each segment follows the same formula: An unexpected interference upends Mog’s orderly existence, which the cat must bring back to normal. These tales can get a bit stressful when presented consecutively rather than as one bedtime story at a time.
The most high-octane sequence is one at the vet, where Mog is being treated for a thorn in her paw and breaks out of the office and causes chaos in the waiting room (every pet owner’s worst nightmare). Through the use of costuming, the show wittily portrays the suggestion that pets and owners start to morph into one.
Georgina Goodchild, with dopey charm and plenty of expressive mews, plays Mog, a sensitive soul with vivid dreams of flying and taking things to heart. The unsentimental Kerr did show that Mog isn’t always the easiest cat to live with, but I refused to join in with the refrain of "Bother that cat!" as her behaviour isn’t so terrible, and it feels quite mean-spirited.
Laura McEwen’s 1970s styling reflects the period in which the first books were written, with a geometric plywood house that would have been the height of modernity at the time, and Mr. Thomas wears a particularly fetching brown and orange cardigan. There also are some somewhat retro attitudes: Mr. Thomas (the deep-voiced Ben Vardy) wants to sit in his favourite chair (which seems to mean more to him than his own family) and read his newspaper in peace. At the same time, Mrs. Thomas (Kerry Lovell) frets over her boiling peas and parallel parking.
The framing device with pet shop owner Mr. Bunce (Tom England) warms the audience up but doesn’t follow through. Both gentle and rather hectic, it’s a colourful diversion with a pleasantly informal vibe that celebrates ’a truly remarkable cat’. However, although Judith Kerr undoubtedly understood cats to a whisker, I’m not sure this show does entirely.
Mog the Forgetful Cat is at the Old Vic through 29 July.
Photo credit: The cast of Mog the Forgetful Cat (Photo courtesy of Manuel Harlan)
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