By: Mat Hik, MA Music
Following two sold out runs of his solo show ‘How to Live a Jellicle Life: Life Lessons From the Hit Movie Musical Cats,’ Linus Karp is embarking on a 21 venue tour of the show – including a performance at the Two Brewers in Clapham on 11 March! Ahead of the tour, I spoke to Linus about all things Jellicle, and how the show creates an interactive space for community and Queerness.
So, I suppose the easiest place to start is to tell us about the show!
I find that really hard actually, to define it; it is a powerpoint presentation, sort of like a TED Talk vibe, about how you can live a more Jellicle life by looking at all the cats in ‘Cats,’ and how you can be more like them. I mean, there are also loads of details like various games, dancing, and queer moments.
What was it about the movie ‘Cats’ that got stuck in your brain the way it did?
I mean I just love it and I’ve never seen anything like it; I just watched it and it kind of took over my life, I could not stop thinking about it. And I just wanted to know everything from a filmmaking perspective like, how did this happen? And why did this happen? There were so many choices in it that were so weird and questionable and wonderful. And also, if this is the truth and this is the world they live in, what does it look like? Like, what do the cats do? How do they relate to each other? If this is what cats look like, what do the humans look like and what do the dogs look like? Why do certain cats have certain relationships with each other? Why do some of them work well together even though there is nothing to gain from it? I just wanted to explore the full world; the Jellicle society.
The movie was so negatively reviewed, did that impact your choice?
I do not think so. Maybe subconsciously I will choose to like things that others do not, but it was not a deliberate decision. I think that it was fascinating; ‘Cats’ is not the greatest film you’ve ever seen but it’s not the worst one either, it became a competition of slagging it off as much as possible and people wanted it to fail because it was a big Oscar-winning director and a musical theatre legend doing this thing. And, with an all-star cast and all this money going into it, people relished in it flopping. Which I guess is understandable, but it’s also not as bad as people made it out to be. Basically, there are many questionable things in it, and I actually like the visual effects, but many of them are very weird and inconsistent. But it is not the worst film you have ever seen. I think what really makes it interesting is that it is so good and bad at the same time. It is visually great, if inconsistent, and the performers and music have the visuals and really bad dialogue on top of it as well. People can compare it to films like ‘The Room’ or ‘Rocky Horror’ but these films did not have the same things going for it as this film did; I would say there has never been a flop on this scale before.
What was the process of adapting such a complex film to a solo show that includes so much media?
It was probably freeing because I can talk about whatever I want. Like, there is a section in the show where I focus on Taylor Swift and her music and how you can see ‘Cats’ references in that, if you choose to! I think things like that, you have such a vast smorgasbord of things to pick from and I could easily have made the show a lot longer if I had wanted to. But, I wanted to make it as interesting and accessible to people who aren’t as big Jellicle nerds as I am.
Outside of Cats, what were other influences that shaped the show and the creative process?
At the time I was also watching a lot of ‘The Simpsons,’ and the silly sense of humour they have in the first 10 seasons or so, hopefully some of that comes through as well, because the show is very playful and stupid. I created the show in lockdown and wanted something that was escapism and that would also bring the audience together. So, it was more of a joint experience rather than someone just watching the show and then leaving – they actually get to do and experience something together. I was really missing the theatre community, so I wanted to created a show that brought people together, and I wanted to make it very Queer.
What are things for you that define a Jellicle life or your Jellicle community?
It is funny because the word Jellicle doesn’t really have a meaning, like, when T.S. Eliot wrote the poems it’s based on, I think his niece was trying to say ‘Dear Little Cat’ and it came out sounding like Jellicle Cat. And in the lyrics in ‘Cats’ they are saying all the things a Jellicle Cat can do, but never define what it is. So I think I decided, if these are the Jellicle Cats, what they do must be Jellicle, so let’s take a look at what they do so that we can be Jellicle as well. Whatever their actions are, they are Jellicle, so, how can we live our Jellicle lives the way they do?
As an undefined work it’s an imaginative space for you to interpret their actions as a way of defining what that word is, but also leaves things quite open to interpretation?
It is nice to have something that is unclear in a way – you get to define it the way you want. Or, rather, I do not think my show would share T.S. Eliot’s meaning or what they wanted to say with the work. But it’s interesting when you take something and put your own spin on it, you colour it with your own world, and your own thoughts and imagination, and political beliefs.
I suppose the openness of Jellicle creates a space for you to work those meanings in, so, as a performer how were you able to incorporate aspects of Queer culture and your own identity into being a Jellicle Cat?
I think this is the Queerest show I have done and I really wanted to create something that was as Queer as possible. Queerness has also influenced my work but this more than ever. And I guess the show is about ‘Cats’ but I want to make it personal; my identity is important to me and so I wanted to include that in the show.
Finally, when are the tour dates and how can we support you?
The Two Brewers in Clapham on the 11 March, in Norwich on 2 February and Nottingham on 6 February. And on our social media @awkwardprods and @linuskarp, the link in either bio has links to tickets at all the venues and also CrowdFunder. We also have a Jellicle clothing range so you can announce it to the world around you!
Photo Caption: The poster for Karp’s ‘How to Live a Jellicle Life: Lessons From The Hit Movie Musical Cats’ (Credit: Linus Karp)