JOE Wawrzyniak is playing Gus, the Theatre Cat, in Pick Me Up Theatre’s staging of Cats this week, a role soon to be performed by Sir Ian McKellen in the 2019 film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical.

“His full name is Asparagus, but as the song says in the show, it’s too much fuss, so he’s known as Gus,” says Joe, who sings Gus, The Theatre Cat in a duet with Alexandra Mather’s Jellylorum.

“The song is recalling him in his youth, so he then regresses into his past, transforming him from a 1,000-year-old cat to Growltiger, a pirate version when the song is almost cod opera.

“It’s a great part to play, though it’s quite underestimated because when people think of Cats, they think of the Magical Mr Mistoffelees, Skimbleshanks and Grizabella’s song Memory, but Sir John Mills played him in the original film, and Gus has one of the biggest sections of the show, a 15 to 20-minute scene built around a storytelling number.”

Aptly for a Theatre Cat, Gus stands out from the felines around him: “The format of the show is largely song and dance, and acting is part of it too, but more than the rest, Gus is all about acting and storytelling, with the contrast between Gus as the old cat and then his regression to his youth and then back to his present, so it’s hard at 32 playing a really old cat and then going back to being young!”

Joe does but jest. He is delighted to be appearing in Ali Kirkham’s production: “This is my Cats debut, but it’s always been a favourite show of mine,” he says.

“I remember listening to the soundtrack at 10, 11, 12, when your imagination runs wild with it. Andrew Lloyd Webber, Trevor Nunn and choreographer Dame Gillian Lynne must have had a field day with the 1998 film, which I loved, and now I’m older and can appreciate the art to it, “I think it’s one of Lloyd Webber’s cleverest pieces, as T S Eliot’s estate decreed he had to write music precisely to fit the poems, without changing them, including two poems, one of them about Grizabella, that never featured in T S Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats.”

While Joe makes a joke of his appearance in Lycra being a “sight for sore eyes”, he has enjoyed helping to create Gus’s look.

“I’ve created my own wig for Gus, as we’re feral cats with wild hair, so I’ve spent a few days working on it, as it gives you a sense of ownership of the role,” he says.

“The basic wig is a Tina Turner wig from the 1980s, because it’s the mullet look! So I’ve eked it out, cut bits out, shaped it into a cat’s head and made ears to go with it!”

Joe also has enjoyed being directed by Ali Kirkham, who was invited to be at the helm of Cats by Pick Me Up artistic director Robert Readman.

“Robert saw her Ryedale Youth Theatre version of Cats in Malton a few years ago and he really liked what she did with it, so he asked her to work her magic again in York,” he says of Ali, a professional singer, dancer, director and talent company boss.

“It’s the first time I’ve worked with Ali and though she’s a task master –in a good way – she likes to have fun too.

But Cats is a big challenge of a show, with at least 95 per cent of it being dance or movement, so that’s meant a lot of rehearsals since the end of August.

“We started with two a week, and then increased it to three a week, so it was intense, but it’s been worth it as it looks and sounds great, and Jess Douglas is a fantastic musical director too.

“Now, having a full-time job in Scarborough, I have to think about commitments for theatre shows, but this one was a no-brainer for me, I had to do it and it’s such a joy to do. It’s pure spectacle.”

Pick Me Up Theatre present Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats at Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday, 7.30pm nightly plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at