Imagine a secret cult, led by a wizened elder who is flanked by two charismatic lieutenants, one of militant precision, the other of rock-star-like status. The cultists who follow them are each given a mysterious cult name by which they are known amongst themselves, and in addition they believe in a third ‘true’ name which each keeps secret for their whole lives. Once a year, the cult holds a gathering under a full moon. The night includes a great dance, the recounting of thrilling and endearing stories of former and current members, and culminates in the selection of one among them for a ritual sacrifice. So revered is this opportunity, so deluded are those who aspire to it, that the cultists spend much of the night trying to learn who it will be this year, and even the elderly and enfeebled members will strive to take part in the dancing and frolicking for a chance to be chosen.
This year will be different. A known renegade, perhaps a defector, is stalking the perimeter of the merriment waiting for a chance to strike, to save the life of whichever tribute is to die tonight. He and his two fellow defectors finally steal their chance to break in and kidnap the cult leader in the hope of cutting the head off the snake. However, in trying to escape, he comes face-to-face with the militant lieutenant who stands his ground and makes him fight. With the renegade distracted, the cult reveals their ace in the hole, a young cultist with mysterious psychic abilities, so deeply enamoured and damaged by the cult that his eyes are misted and his demeanour childlike in his detachment from reality. He swiftly dispatches of the renegade with his psychic powers and restores the cult leader to the gathering. The elder decides to make a point of solidarity by choosing one of their elderly outcasts as this year’s sacrifice. She weeps with blind delight as she is led to the slaughter, and the renegade is nowhere to be seen as the elder leads the cult in one final song of how they are the truest of people.
And now you know what to say the next time someone asks you, “What is the musical ‘Cats’ actually about, anyway?”