Singing cats?  A dog who wears boxing gloves?  A giant clockwork mouse?  A crack right across the backdrop which slides open to reveal animated scenes?  Smoking chimney pots on the stage itself?  A dead Contessa?

I thought opera was all about people dressed up in old-fashioned costumes singing in foreign languages about tragedies and love but when I saw Varjak Paw this week it changed my view of opera completely.  This was a truly modern performance full of energy and humorous touches as well as plenty of danger for Varjak, the young cat who is the hero.  Best of all, the plot was easy to understand and so was the singing – all in English!

It was also fun to have a live orchestra but I couldn’t see them from where I was sitting and I realised, from going to this production, that I find it easier to concentrate on things that I can see as well as hear.   Unfortunately, on the afternoon I saw the production, Varjak (Akiya Henry) had a sore throat and, although she was still able to act the part, she had to mime her singing.  Her voice was provided by another singer standing at the side of the stage.  It took a bit of getting used to but actually it worked because the substitute singer’s voice was lovely and Akiya Henry was such a lively actor and Varjak was such an endearing character.

On the other hand, Sally Bones, the villainess, played by Alinka Kozari, was a heartless cat who was involved in a scheme to turn cats into robots, claiming power over them.  She was capable of hypnotism and nearly overcame Varjak.   The singers had been well chosen to fit their parts and their voices reflected these roles.  Sally Bones hit a lot of high notes which really made you believe she was a cat yowling on the rooftops.  The voice of Jalal the Paw, the mystical Mesopotamian cat who appears in Vorjak’s dreams, was very tranquil and clear.  He taught Vorjak the seven skills of ‘The Way’ including slow martial arts moves that were like Tai Chi.

The street cats serving Sally Bones, dressed in orange and black, like tabbies, added plenty of humour, especially Razor (George Ikediashi) whose deep, rich voice provided a good contrast to the higher ones.  I think he was my favourite character because he was so funny, eventually stopped being a villain and became friends with Varjak.

We appreciated getting a free programme with the tickets and I especially liked being able to see the designer’s pictures of the costumes.  I feel really lucky to have been able to go to Varjak Paw and recommend that you go and see it too.

Callum Williams, aged 13