In conversation with Linus Karp

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By Mia Smith, Co-Deputy Music Editor

Epigram catches up with theatremaker Linus Karp as he prepares to take his insanely genius How to Live a Jellicle Life; life lessons from the 2019 hit movie musical Cats back on the road. We chat about making theatre in a pandemic and the queer joy of Cats.

As I sit down with Linus over Zoom, I’m wearing his merch and there’s a poster from his last show that I stole from the Alma Tavern loos behind me. ‘Oh, how fun!’ he laughs, ‘It really means a lot – the show is so weird and niche, I really wondered whether people would actually want to see it and enjoy it.’

He’s right, the show is completely absurd – essentially him delivering a PowerPoint in a cat costume. But How to Live a Jellicle Life… is incredibly funny, and even more smart. Karp teaches us how we can all be ‘jellicle’, considering the wisdom offered by each of the felines from the 2019 flop film. There’s gifs, camp show tunes, and a really good bit about twin cats Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer basically being Jedward. Like all good theatre, the show is constantly evolving: ‘One of the good and bad things about writing it yourself is I keep updating it all the time’, Karp explains. ‘Whenever I rewatch Cats, or if there’s a pop culture moment I think can link to the show, I’ll add it’. There’s even a video cameo from his mum this time.

Photo: Dave Bird

This will be the second time Karp is touring the show: ‘I just had so much fun doing it this summer – when it was coming towards the end of the tour, I just didn’t want it to end.’ The show has only gotten bigger and better: this time his jellicle message will stretch all the way from Glasgow to Penzance. ‘There were a lot of venues before that weren’t ready for the summer with COVID, but this time they are’, he explains. ‘Lots of people in Manchester were demanding the show too, and I thought well if I’m going to Manchester, I might as well go to a few more places, and then it just snowballed from there and ended up being 22 cities!’

Karp’s quest begins in Bristol at the Alma Tavern & Theatre, from the 11th-13th January. ‘I always have such a good time in Bristol!’, he beams, ‘It’s just such a nice city and Alma is a great venue – the audiences are always some of the most fun.’

After a particularly tricky couple of years for theatre, Karp remains impossibly optimistic: ‘It’s hard to see, especially now, the light at the end of the tunnel – but we will get there. It’s worth remembering that positive things came out of the pandemic as well’, he continues. ‘The theatre community is so supportive, and things like streaming have helped make theatre more accessible.’ Although Karp is able to travel to practically every city in the UK this time, he’s still streaming the show online to aid accessibility.

I’m desperate to get to the bottom of why Karp is so obsessed with a film that scored 19% on Rotten Tomatoes. ‘I finished touring my previous show and I didn’t know what to do next’, he explains. ‘I’d never seen the stage show of Cats, or was even bothered about the film coming out, but I went with my partner to see it and I just–’. He stumbles trying to put his love into words: ‘– it just blew my mind. I couldn’t stop talking about it, thinking about it, listening to the soundtrack. I went back to the cinema to see it a few days later.

‘It just took over my life’, he says, half-joking, half-not. ‘Then I started thinking I could turn it into a show, but clearly, everyone hates this film! Then a director friend who runs a scratch night in London got in touch because he’d seen how obsessed I’d become, and he asked if I wanted to do perform something Cats related – and then I thought, people are interested!’

The show is a joyous, queer celebration. The stage production of Cats is pretty queer anyway: ‘Mr Mistofolees runs around with rainbows and his sparkly jacket and is basically very gay. The Rum Tum Tugger also sings ‘Magical Mr Mistofolees’, so it hints at them having a relationship. There’s lots of fanfic in that area’, he laughs. Karp extends this queerness, and ensures the show revels in such: ‘it was important to me to create something queer but joyful. So often queer stories are really depressing – it’s conversion therapy, or AIDS, or coming out, or homophobia. And obviously these stories need to be told, but it’s important to show that queer can be joyful too.’

Photo: Dave Bird

I save the most important question until last – snog, marry, avoid: Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench), Bustopher Jones (James Corden) and Gus the Theatrical Cat (Ian McKellen). Karp laughs, ‘I’ll avoid Bustopher Jones of course. The thing is, I want to choose Old Deuteronomy for snog and marry because of the way she kicks her leg up in the air – she still has it. I don’t think a snog with Gus would be that enjoyable if I’m honest’. I let him choose Old Deuteronomy for both, and he says that's just jellicle.

If you see the show, you'll leave calling everything jellicle too. Maybe 'Jellicle Songs For Jellicle Cats' will be your top song of 2022, as was the case for Karp last year.

You can catch ‘How to Live a Jellicle Life; life lessons from the 2019 hit movie musical Cats’ at the Alma Tavern and Theatre from the 11th-13th January. Tickets are available here.

Featured image: Dave Bird


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