Purrfect pleasure

Rose Pickard (bottom) and Sophie Morris prepare for their roles in Cats. Photo: Supplied
Rose Pickard (bottom) and Sophie Morris prepare for their roles in Cats. Photo: Supplied
Two Dunedin performers have been selected to tour New Zealand in a new ‘‘re-imagined’’ production of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s famous musical Cats. Rebecca Fox asks what it takes to be a cat.

Sophie Morris and Rose Pickard are slowly transforming themselves into cats - Jemima and Jellylorum specifically.

The two Dunedin performers are part of a new New Zealand production of Cats, The Musical, based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, by T.S. Eliot, about a tribe of cats called the Jellicles.

They join a cast of performers that includes New Zealand Court Theatre actress Eilish Moran as Grizabella, Australian stage, television and film actor Brendan Lovett as Old Deuteronomy, New Zealand actor Phil Grieve as Bustopher Jones and Australian dance and theatre performer Christian Girardi as Macavity.

The pair have been in intensive rehearsals for the show, working eight hours a day, six days a week in preparation for the tour.

Rose Pickard (third from left) and Sophie Morris with Bryn Monk (left) and Nic Laughton outside the  Fortune Theatre in 2017 after being named  Fortune Theatre Emerging Artist Scholarship recipients. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Rose Pickard (third from left) and Sophie Morris with Bryn Monk (left) and Nic Laughton outside the Fortune Theatre in 2017 after being named Fortune Theatre Emerging Artist Scholarship recipients. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Morris, a soprano, who has played Sophie in Mamma Mia! and Sandy in Grease, is excited by her latest role.

She can remember watching the musical on video as a child, as she was a keen dancer and singer even back then.

''It brings back a lot of childhood memories.''

Being part of such an institution was very special.

''It's really nice to be part of such an ensemble, that is really collaborative, and you can sink your teeth into it.''

Her character, Jellylorum, is one of the more mature cats who has lived a few lives.

''She's the nurturer; she looks after the kittens and the older cats. She's a very classy cat who likes to do things her way, but is full of love and care.''

The show is a real challenge as, unlike in her other roles, the cats are on stage for the entire show.

''It's very complex, very physical. We're being cats all day long. There is a lot of contortion and having to use the body in different ways.''

For both Morris and Pickard it means looking after themselves, eating healthily and getting plenty of sleep.

''You need good body awareness.''

Pickard, a former Kavanagh College pupil who is studying performance art at the newly formed New Zealand School of Creativity in Wellington, is ''super-stoked'' to be part of the production.

She knew Morris from their work together in the Fortune Theatre's Into the Woods a couple of years ago.

While a bit nervous about the dance work required for her role, she was loving the rehearsals.

''It's well within my range and skill level - it's a dream.''

While a bout of sickness laid her low for the first week, she is back on deck.

''We are now detailing every scene and getting close to seeing what the final piece will look like. It's very exciting.''

The rehearsals were tiring physically and emotionally for the dancers, but she found her fellow dancers to be incredibly supportive.

Her character, Jemima, is one of the younger cats and is experiencing everything for the first time, so is very excited.

''I love being able to play that. It's awesome playing a kid; all love and happiness.''

Their roles require each to wear a unitard or full ''cat suit'', which are being painted to reflect their unique colourings.

''They're pretty tailored, very tight and figure-hugging.''

They are also getting fitted for their accessories - Jemima wears a tutu on the back of her cat suit - and the all-important knee pads.

''They're a life-saver, to be honest,'' Morris says.

The set for the new production is inspired by Christchurch post-earthquake - a dilapidated Victorian theatre with a fallen roof dome, open to the elements.

Morris says it ties in with the production's darkness and new choreography.

''It has all the original parts we know and love, but with a new darkness, although they are still searching for hope.''

Both performers have big plans after the show with moves to Australia in the pipeline.

Morris is looking to do a vocal and acting stint in Melbourne, while Pickard is looking to work in the industry with a view to heading to America in the future.

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