'Cats' Musical Wiki

Below is a description of the basic characteristics present on John Napier's Cats set design seen on major contemporary productions today. The exact characteristics of each set differ by production (see main article on individual sets). In general, all the identifiable objects in the set are scaled 1:4, to give us a "Cats' Eye View".

The Stage Floor[]

The stage floor is usually painted to resemble torn magazine and/or newspaper pages, with snippets of text and adverts here and there. There is typically a prominent image of a tiger in the centre of the painted floor (although in Madrid, the image is of a lion). The stage itself is often a thrust stage (dependent on the venue), with the stage itself being surrounded on three sides by seats, allowing for increased audience visibility of the actors onstage from all angles. The edges of the stage bordering the audience are covered with stylised piles of 'trash' blending into the floor of the auditorium (see 'The Trash Piles' below). It is common for the stage floor to be raked i.e. slanted towards the audience instead of flat. On some sets, the stage floor contains pyrotechnics used during Mistoffelees' dance number.

Orchestra Pit[]

In all static replica productions of Cats, the orchestra pit is unused and covered, with the stage floor often extending into the audience. The orchestra is instead located in a sound booth backstage, and the cast watch a live feed of the conductor for their music cues via television monitors mounted on the overhanging ledges of the mezzanine. The purpose of this staging is to reinforce the immersive setting of the show, with no barrier between the stage and the audience.

The Oven[]

German Tour 2010 Set 3

German Tour 2010

The oven, located on stage right of the large upstage portion of the set, is styled as a large household oven scaled to a cat's point of view. It serves as an entrance during the show, with the door opening and closing on a horizontal hinge. Often the oven is internally lit. The top of the oven also serves as a perch for cats. The original London production did not feature an oven - the revolving thrust stage meant there was less "trash" surrounding the stage. In some productions there is tradition for leaving cast members to exit through the oven at the end of the show.

The Pipe[]

The pipe, located upstage right to the left of the oven, is styled as a large drain pipe. As with most of the notable set items, it is scaled to be seen from a cat's point of view. It serves as an entry and exit, including Demeter's first entrance in the opening number.

The Tire[]

Set NAP70 Paris 2

Paris, 2015

The tire, styled as a large jeep tire, is located upstage center, to the right of the pipe. During the show, it serves as Old Deuteronomy's 'throne' or seat during the show. It rises on hydraulics (concealed with dry ice smoke) to raise Grizabella to the Heaviside Layer at the end of the show. Several miscellaneous 'boxes' (platforms) are located to the side of the tire to allow actors to climb onto it from the stage floor.

The Heavenly Hand/Harness[]

This refers to the method by which Grizabella is lifted from the tire to the 'Heaviside Layer' (upwards and offstage). Some productions utilize a staircase stylized as a large "cat paw" (a paw of the Everlasting Cat), or styled as stars and clouds, that descends down towards the tire on hydraulics which the actor playing Grizabella would then walk on up and off stage; or a "flying saucer" rig descends to carry her to the heavens; others use a harness to lift the actor directly. The exact method used usually depends on the venue in question and its limitations.

The Car Boot/Trunk[]

German Tour 2010 Set 4

German Tour, 2010

Located next to the tire upstage left, the trunk (in British parlance the boot) represents a car trunk/boot, particularly that of an older car from the 1960s/70s (e.g. the Volkswagen Beetle). It is painted black, with a number plate attached to it (see below for more information on the number plate). The trunk's lid is designed to raise up on hydraulics during the Gumbie Cat number to reveal Jennyanydots.

The Number Plate[]

The number plate is attached to the car boot/trunk (see above). On most sets, the number plate reads "NAP" followed by a number; the number was used to count the iterations of the set from the original, or, in some cases, to denote special occasions (e.g. NAP70, the London Palladium set, commemorates John Napier's 70th birthday). There are some exceptions to this rule, however - notably, the movie set's number plate read 'TSE 1' in honor of T.S. Eliot.

On earlier sets, the plate was painted black with white text, mimicking the iconic older style of British number plates commonly seen on older cars back when Cats first premiered in the 1980s; nowadays, most sets use a yellow plate design with black text and borders mimicking more modern British number plates, which contemporary audiences would more easily recognize. Asian productions switch out the number plate to a local reference.

The Catwalks[]

The 'catwalks' are a series of platforms spanning the upper section of the upstage portion of the set, starting at a hidden entrance on stage right and running along the top above the pipe and trash piles (see below) onto the tire and trunk, then back up to another hidden entrance on stage left. This platform serves as an area for actors to enter and exit as well as sit/stand on in character during the show. In productions featuring the trapeze, the actor on the trapeze will sometimes swing off of the catwalks on stage right; other times, from the top of the oven or the catwalks above it, on stage left.

The Bedstead[]

Pouncival T J Hee Zurich 01

Pouncival climbing the Bedstead, Zurich 1991

Downstage left there is often a dilapidated brass bedstead set on its side, which provides a climbing frame for the Cats. In some productions this is duplicated stage right. This is another element that did not feature in the original London staging.

Trash Piles[]

The 'trash piles' are the miscellaneous decorations surrounding the set and the borders of the stage (see above). They are stylized to look like random piles of odd junk fitting the junkyard aesthetic of the show, filling in areas of the stage without distinctive set items like those mentioned above and giving the set depth. The junk often includes discarded garments, shirts and underwear; broken crockery including teapots; household refuse such as egg cartons and cereal boxes; and many broken bottles. For productions built to tour these miscellaneous "junk" textures are produced by vacuum-molded, painted panels upstage, with scale props scattered close enough for the audience to examine them.

Some of the apparently random bits of trash are actually used as props during the show. For example, props used in Skimbleshanks' train, the Beetles' Tattoo, and the Pekes and Pollicles costumes are hidden in plain sight.

It is common for productions to customise the junk to include inside jokes, local brands and items unique to/associated with their region.