‘CATS’ the musical, is the new sold out production at the Ronacher Theatre in Vienna. Andrew Lyod-Webber’s ‘Cats’, based on T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, is one of the most famous and successful musicals of all time; which is why Vienna’s cultural scene was more than excited to welcome this iconic production.
I was excited for another reason: my best friend is amongst the new cast. I will avoid getting too nostalgic, but I have known Hannah since 2010 when we both started at The Royal Ballet Upper School. Therefore, it was a very special coincidence that her new job would also reunite us. Hannah is one of those people that, when you meet her, you are immediately drawn to her vibrant and dynamic personality and her contagious laughter and positive energy. The same applies for her presence onstage.
Hannah Kenna Thomas performs the role of the iconic ‘white cat’, Victoria. She first joined the cast of ‘Cats’ in 2014 at the London Palladium, following with a European tour. If you would ‘Google’ this character, you would find the following criteria: “Victoria is young, uninhibited and inquisitive with a beautiful physique. An outstanding dancer with excellent classical training and technique required. Must have exceptional extension and facility.” This is also Hannah in a nutshell.
“Being a member of the ‘Cats’ cast, feels like being part of a second family.”Hannah Kenna Thomas
What’s it like being part of the ‘Cats’ cast?
It’s like having a second family. Being part of such a physically demanding musical- performing 6-7 times a week – is a huge responsibility. Every cast member has to pull their weight every night to make each performance and good as the night before, and if not, better. But we are the ‘Jellicle tribe’, on and off stage and support each other in every performance.
Do you feel a big difference between the production here in Vienna, compared to London?
Generally, there is no big difference. Performing in different cities always feels slightly different, purely due to a different stage/theatre and the fact that the energy from the public is never the same. The only big difference between the production in London and in Vienna, is the language. The songs and script have been translated into German. Although my character doesn’t have any solo singing numbers, I have had to learn the group numbers in German and get used to the story line in a language that I had no previous knowledge or understanding of. This was very daunting.
I’m typically not the type of person who learns well by sitting at home with a book, trying to comprehend the language and the pronunciation; I need to learn by doing. I found our music sessions the most helpful: the fact that these unfamiliar words were attached to very familiar musical notes, made it a lot easier for me to learn.
Unfortunately I can’t sing my way through my everyday life but I’m getting by with the essential phrases. Adapting to a foreign speaking city has definitely been a lot easier than I expected. It’s amazing what you can understand and pick up from the tone of someone’s voice and their mannerisms.
Which cities have been your favourite to perform in?
It’s hard to pick just one favourite, but I think I would have to say London. I have a sentimental attachment to the city and it was where my journey with ‘Cats’ began. I also often had family or friends watching in the audience; this was always very special and encouraging for me. I also love performing here in Vienna and even though I am further away from home, the audience and the cast, have made it feel like a second home. Other than these two cities, I especially enjoyed performing in Amsterdam and Zurich.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Yes, it all starts 2.5 hours before curtains up. After one hour in make-up, we take part in a ‘company warm-up’; getting ourselves physically ready as well as vocally. Once I’m warmed up, the wig comes on and the pre-show nerves start to tingle.
I repeat the white cat solo about 5 times, just as preparation! I have the tendency to want to do it the whole time leading up to my first entrance, but I have to stop myself, or else it would drive me crazy. Trying to relax is also a good part of pre-show preparation. As the stage is raked (a raked stage is one that is built on an angle that slopes upward and away from the front of the stage), I repeat the solo on and off stage. It’s a slightly different feeling on a raked stage, so I want to prepare my body. I also add a couple of glute exercises to my ‘ritual’ and I would do them on and off stage as well.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Well,nothing that I feel guilty about! I guess you could classify my post-performance ‘Vapianos’ pizza with a large glass of red wine and a Netflix binge, as a ‘guilty pleasure’…but frankly, I don’t feel guilty about that at all – it’s well deserved after a performance.
What would you tell your younger self?
I would tell myself to not worry so much and just enjoy every moment. There are some things in life over which you have no control over so it’s important to just ‘let it be’. Life happens and things work out as they are meant to be, so there is no point stressing or worrying about things that you can’t control; find the things you can appreciate and enjoy them. Meditating has really helped me grasp this mindset and this is definitely something that I would have advised my ‘younger self’, to do. Also, to learn to be kind to yourself and to trust your gut instinct. But, I think those are things that you can only learn from personal experiences and probably wouldn’t have made much sense to my ‘younger self’.
3 Things on your bucket-list:
I have always wanted to ride a horse, on a beach! Something about it just seems so incredibly beautiful and calming. Staying with the horse-theme, I would also love to be part of the ‘Crazy Horse’, which is a cabaret show in Paris. To name a third, I would absolutely love to go to New York City!
“It would only be a guilty pleasure, if I felt guilty about it.”Hannah Kenna Thomas