In one of my favourite theatres lives a cat called Rochester.
On any given Saturday night, you might be standing in the blue bohemian bar sipping a drink before the show, when Rochester will make his first dramatic entrance. He’ll streak in from the foyer, oblivious to all, caught up in an invisible mouse chase. He’ll pounce on the mouse, which narrowly escapes, fleeing to an imaginary mouse hole in the skirting board. Rochester then nonchalantly diverts his attention to the nearest lounge, where with another theatrical leap, he lands on its curved back and proceeds to stalk its length with his claws.
Now if a foolish stage manager, happening to walk by in a pre-show panic, attempts to remove him, they will discover that the cat, like a well chewed piece of gum, will stretch infinitely between stage manager and sofa. And just when it seems that neither of them can stretch any further, the theatre manager will call from behind the bar, “Rochester, get down from there now.”
And the cat will suddenly retract its claws, and you will find yourself lying on the floor, with a cat on your chest. Yes. I have been that foolish stage manager. For a moment its flat green eyes will look into yours and then it will leap nimbly off your chest.
But now it’s time for the main show. The bell rings and you are ushered into the intimacy of the black box theatre. You settle in to enjoy the drama. The characters are introduced, the setting established, events are foreshadowed and conflict emerges. And just as the rather pretty heroine realises that her lover is actually the ………. Rochester enters.
But this is no mere walk on role. This is a star thespian. As he threads his way between patrons’ feet, handbags and empty wine glasses, he elicits murmurs of admiration from his audience. Once he has everyone’s attention, he crosses to centre stage and stands firmly between the heroine and her antagonist. By this time the audience are on the edge of their seat. What will this thing, without lines, make up or costume, but with plenty of character, do next they wonder?
He doesn’t disappoint. Glaring at the lover, he flicks his tail from side to side, and then slides his whole furry length against the heroine’s legs. Then, ears twitching, he disappears quickly into the wings. Was it the call of some other damsel in distress that he heard?
“He better not have pissed in the dressing room. We’ll never get the smell out,” says the theatre manager after the show. “One day that bloody cat’s going to outsmart himself and that will be the end of him. You know I saw him up on the roof the other day. I called the fire brigade and they told me they’d have to charge for the visit, so I left him up there. He cried all night but eventually, he worked out how to get down.”
And as last drinks are called at the bar, the headline act will be in true post-performance mode; curled up in an armchair, feigning sleep.