Victoria Palace Theatre, London - photo by chrisjohnbeckett (Flickr)
I have just learned that the usually accepting theatre actor in London, UK, has had enough of the infestation of rats, mice and fleas. The situation has got worse apparently and something needs to be done.
We are told that three-quarters of West End theatres are "infested with rats, mice and fleas". The glamorous picture that the theatre goers see when they go to shows and when they soak up the atmosphere of London's theatre land is not the same as the alleged appalling working conditions and infestations suffered by the long suffering actors who are only too pleased to be in work, I suspect.
They complain of hearing and seeing mice regularly. One obvious reason is that they work in old buildings and there is a lot of food around.
I immediately thought of cats - what else! Wasn't there a time when there was such an animal as a theatre cat? There is certainly a well known poem, Gus - The Theatre Cat, a poem by T S Eliot. I have a feeling that they were more common a long time ago and perhaps it is time to reintroduce them....
Gus is the Cat at the Theatre Door.
His name, as I ought to have told you before...
Before the cat become a true companion living in the home full-time in millions of households in the USA (much less so in the UK and Europe), the "social contract" between human and cat was based on the cat's ability to successfully prey on rodents. This is how it all started between human and cat.
And you don't need to keep a cat hungry to be a good and enthusiastic hunter as the urge to hunt is independent of the urge to eat.
The original role of the shorthair cats that became the American shorthair breed in the USA and the longhair cats that became the Maine Coon in the USA was to reduce damage done to the grain stores. I am sure the same scenario existed in the UK during the 17th century.
There are some extraordinary stories of working cats. One Lancashire male tabby who lived in a factory was estimated to have killed 22,000 mice over the 23 years of his life (three per day). He would have solved the mice problem in one of these London theatres, I reckon.
However, the world champion mouser cat was a female tabby living in White City Stadium, London. This was a dog track as I recall at one time. In a six year period she caught 12,480 rats (5-6 per day).
OK enough said. They can be extremely effective and think of it; two cats in one theatre (even one) would keep people amused, provide comfort for stressed actors and get rid of those mice.
When one actor as asked about pests, (s)he said "Mice, mice, mice. Quite often there is an unpleasant smell which usually turns out to be a dead one."
It's time to do the sensible thing. Put some cats to work. I am sure there are some just around the corner from the stage door. All you have got to do is feed them and keep them warm and in no time they will make the theatre their home and voila, problem solved on the cheap.
Update:.. I have just seen three letters in the Times newspaper from different dates on the same subject:
One says that in the late 1950s and early 1960s there was nearly always a cat in the theatres where this person worked. The person is Peter Baldwin and he lives in London. He worked, it seems, in many small theatres and perhaps some big ones. On one occasion at Colchester Repertory Theatre during a performance of Dick Whittington the cat came on stage and got a round of applause. The actress on stage playing the cat had never got such applause! (Times march 10th 2010)
In another letter dated 8th March 2010 the writer said the Royal Opera House had a cat called Tiger during the 1920s and 1930s. Tiger would like to watch from the wings. On one occasion he walked on stage and walked across it. No one minded as it all looked normal. The opera was Die Meistersinger.
In another letter dated 5th March 2010, the writer of the letter says that in their riverside theatre they had a plague of mice. Two kittens were put to use and the mice disappeared. She says that two cats per theatre would resolve the problem.
This is a serious suggestion and it is probably modern health and safety regulations or some such obstacle that prevents it happening.