Zhaolin Zhou’s one-man show is adorable. Although tackling serious subjects, including the homesickness experienced by migrants and mental health issues exacerbated by the Covid-19 lockdown, there’s so much charm here you leave this show with a warm glow.
Walking Cats is inventive. Drawings and models, by Rimu Kwok, displayed via a live video feed (the closest thing I’ve seen is a company called The Paper Cinema) make the creativity behind the show clear. The pictures on cards are arranged and replaced with mesmerising care that builds a sense of delight. There are technical hitches – we are told the show is “messy” – but any drawbacks are handled with endearing appeal.
A kind of magic comes from how personal the show feels, and Zhaolin Zhou’s performance is the key. From greeting the audience as they arrive to some lovely adlibs he is, mostly, enjoying himself. The audience are on his side. And it’s nice to be reminded of how important being polite can prove! Any mistakes or difficulties become engaging. Moments talking about his mother are clearly difficult, but the sincerity on the stage is powerful.
As for the story itself…it is understandably slight. While this lockdown was clearly more creative, as well as more difficult, than most, we all remember how boring that time was. At first, it’s about walks around Kilburn. Then, as agoraphobia sets in, there’s a lot about recreating recipes from back home. It is mundane (supermarket shopping plays a big part), but the detail is evocative and the drawings a treat.
The minutiae become fantastical as memory and imagination interact. Sound and music (strong work from Tingying Dong) as well as descriptions of food vividly conjure Zhaolin Zhou’s home. The conceit of a toy cat as a proxy is a final whimsy to praise. The show becomes so quirky you can’t quite believe what you’re watching – like someone remembering daydreams they had – and this is a stroll down a memory lane that is worth taking.
Until 5 February 2023