Theatre Review: Peace Train: The Cat Stephens Story @ New Oxford Theatre
by Evie Bennett
They say you should never meet your idols. Waiting for Peace Train to start, I took a seat next to my Dad (an avid Cat Stevens fan) and suddenly felt apprehensive that this could turn out to be a serious disappointment. However, all I can say is that I am eating my slice of humble pie; this fascinating chronicle of Cat Stevens life (although I have now learnt that he has had three names) was anything but a disappointment.
Although I expected this to be a story in the form of a drama, I was pleasantly surprised by the pared back simplicity of the production; the white draped fabric provided the perfect backdrop for eclectic 60s style lighting colours to bounce off and peace sign projections depicting the iconic era. Usually a fan of the glitz and glam of musicals scenery, costumes and lighting, I was grateful for this simplicity as it only allowed for the unmistakable music to be the star of the show.
The performance started with Darren Coggan, our storyteller, sat centre stage armed only with a guitar as he crooned the classic ‘Moonshadow’. Coggan has us longing for more as he switched seamlessly between telling part of Cat’s story and performing an uncanny rendition of one of his greatest hits. Although his voice perfectly emulated the distinctive sound of Cat’s, physically he was far from a doppelganger and spoke in a soft Aussie accent. However the beauty in it was that he was not trying to be Cat Stevens, he was instead sympathetically telling his story with a deep passion and commitment, and perhaps this is because the legend is just too legendary to impersonate.
A particular mention should go to Erin Mortimer, an Australian performer whose stunning vocals perfectly complimented Coggan’s croons. She managed to perfectly blend her charismatic stage presence with a respect to the artist they were paying tribute to, allowing the music and the narrative to steal the limelight.
Cat Stevens articulates his search for peace and harmony throughout his journey in his music, and the production used the lyrics to steer the narrative of his story to spellbinding effect. I felt myself forming a bond with this character that so many before me have done too. The production attracted an audience that had grown up with Cat, felt like they had known Cat; men and women in their 50s and 60s bopping away to the infectious beat. I was touched to see how much this meant to people and how many memories this reminisced for them. In fact, a line from the show perfectly captured this sentiment; that a song can unlock a memory and make you feel as if that song was written just for you. This is what I was witnessing in front of me and it was truly magical.
The production was so encapsulating as its narrative depicted a tenacity of Cat’s that I think we can all relate to in some way; that feeling of wanting to find purpose, meaning, direction and your true self.
The UK tour ends this Sunday 17th September 2017, so if you are an avid Cat Stevens fan, this is well worth the watch. I would also strongly recommend taking your sons or daughters to see this with you, and let them share in something that played such a part in your life and perhaps will rebirth a new generation of Cat Stevens lovers. I felt privileged to be in this audience and touched to share something, or someone, that had clearly touched them so much.
Book tickets here.