SKIMBLESHANKS is one of the most lovable cats in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s smash hit musical based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by TS Eliot.
A new production of Cats opens at the Playhouse tomorrow, with Scottish actor Ross Finnie in the role of ‘Skimble’, a part he has already played on London’s West End.
“He’s the uncle. He is the railway cat, always organising things and people,” says the actor, whose working day starts long before curtain up - the make-up alone takes 45 minutes to apply.
“It’s good to take your time, good preparation and good for getting into character,” says Finnie.
“You’re creating a piece of art, it’s different every day because its a person creating it and is part of your transforming into your character.”
That transformation happen in stages. The Cats Company have supplied Finnie’s make-up for the show, about 25 items in all.
“It’s all theatre stuff, very expensive, the best quality; the whole point is that it stays on,” he says.
The actor starts the process by applying a three-colour base, with white at the centre. Some of this will be blended with other colours. “It’s easy to put on too much,” he cautions, adding orange and brown to give the face a bit more texture.
Each character in the show has its own distinctive makeup. “Everything has to blend in so that make-up, wig and costume become one,” says Finnie, “especially as Skimbleshanks is the most cat-like of all the make-ups.”
With the base done, the actor applies a translucent powder to seal everything. The make-up must be dry and fixed in place otherwise it will run when he sweats.
Today, there is also an additional colour to blend in, as Finnie explains. “I’ve never done this before, but they want this very, very dark brown mixed with a lighter brown. Normally I would use black to shape everything out. The dark brown will make this character softer and the make-up look more fur-like.”
Adding in the features, Finnie starts with the eyes, defining them with “a nice strong line” which changes the shape of his eyes.
“As you can see, Skimbleshanks is very much a ginger cat. He is a very friendly character, which is reflected through the design,” says Finnie, as he begins defining the muzzle, which changes the shape of his face completely - he’s definitely getting more feline.
As we approach what Finnie calls the “details stage,” the next big job is to add colour to the eyes and then fix the wig into place, which is easier said than done as, first, Finnie’s microphone must be threaded through and pinned into the wig. With the mic in place, Finnie glues the wig to his face before adding stripes to blend the wig into his features.
“This is the great bit, because you get to make your face as cat-like as possible. I’ve learnt a few tricks of the trade. For example, I double glue the wig because I get very hot and sweaty and don’t want the wig to move. This way, the wig will not budge unless I rip it off, although the glue is very stingy and itchy. You get used to it. With a few finishing flicks of a cotton bud it’s done and Skimbleshanks is in the building.
• Cats, Playhouse, Greenside Place, tomorrow-2 March, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £10-£37.50, 0844-871 3014