I’m not sure people really believe me when I tell them I used to hang out with Old Deuteronomy from Cats.
After all, what could a star character from the legendary musical possibly have in common with me?
I thought our relationship was the cat’s whiskers because I love the world of musical theatre. My wife and I enjoyed eating out with him and his partner in tapas bars
while visiting Spain.
The curtain rose on our acquaintance through a mutual interest in the holiday-rental business on the Costa del Sol. What’s that, you say? Yes, I know Andrew Lloyd Webber never mentioned in the script that Old Deuteronomy ran a holiday business in Spain.
In case you suspect I might be hallucinating on festive mulled wine, I am actually talking about my links with a professional actor who played the wise old cat in tours around the UK and abroad. He had set up home in Spain and rented holiday properties as a sideline between UK shows. That’s where we made our entrance and how we got to know him.
Our tie-up lasted for a decade before we moved onto other things and lost contact. Lost friendships come back to haunt people when they are crushed by loneliness.
I thought of his star role again when I read about the P&J’s wonderful campaign to support lonely people: Connect at Christmas. It could not have come at a more relevant time than in this dreadful pandemic.
Musical theatre used to provide a bridge for people, including those cursed by loneliness, to connect with others and bask in the joy of live performance. How we miss it now in these dark days In Cats, Old Deuteronomy does Grizabella a massive good turn. She is a shabby old cat fallen on hard times, an outcast shunned by the other felines and crippled by loneliness. Old Deuteronomy comes to her rescue by making the “Jellicle Choice” to welcome her back into their community, and offer re-birth in a new life.
It’s about the only thing I understood about the Cats plot, but it was a powerful lesson on loneliness and our basic need for a sense of belonging.
Our actor friend Nic spent about 18 months in the show during one tour, but I never heard him complain about loneliness. At the end of the day he was a professional actor
doing a job, and this long-running tour was a good earner; there was even a spell in the West End.
This is why I never understand the poor souls in I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! who are always gripped by mass hysteria over missing their families and feeling lonely. After all, they fell over themselves to be incarcerated for a mere three weeks – in return for reportedly fat pay cheques as high as £250,000, and career-boosting exposure.
Most of them – particularly actors and sports people – are used to spending long periods away from home and family anyway. Maybe they were really crying with laughter at the amount of money being thrown at them along with the cockroaches.
It’s a different form of loneliness for others less fortunate imprisoned behind four walls. They can’t buy their way out. These vulnerable people are desperate for Good Samaritans like those coming forward to back the P&J campaign.
I spent more than a year living away from my family when I first came to Scotland, with brief reunions every six weeks if we were lucky. It almost finished us off. Weekends were worst; hours dragged, loneliness was suffocating and I felt invisible.
A few years later we experienced another twist in our lives worthy of a stage cameo in itself. Cats came to Aberdeen on that big tour, and our friend Nic – Old Deuteronomy – stayed with us. It was wonderful; we went to see him in the show as his guests.
During the interval he remained alone on stage as part of the act – a brooding figure in full costume sitting in a corner. In our desperate rush to the bar, my wife and I managed to hold ourselves back for a few seconds to wave at him from the edge of the orchestra pit.
I don’t think we actually shouted “coo-ee!”, but it wasn’t far off.
Like a true pro Nic ignored us and remained in character. The penny dropped and we shuffled off quickly. Later at our house we addressed a bottle of “Old Deuteronomy’s” favourite white as we shared the funny episode again with Nic. It was heartwarming to be in good company.
David Knight is the long-serving former deputy editor of the Press and Journal