I have been working in collaboration on a project that interprets William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat (1552) as a theatre work. The project is a collaboration with Terry O’Connor (Forced Entertainment), Rachel Stenner (University of Sussex) and Frances Babbage. The project has involved editing down the original Early Modern text to something like half its original form. The resulting text is read aloud alongside around 100 of my original drawings shown as projections that imagine the cat world of the book.  The performance (a research collaboration between the universities of Sheffield Hallam, Sheffield and Sussex) has exceeded our expectations at each event, including a recent show at the RSC in July. A full-length version of the piece, filmed by Hugo Glendinning, is also available. The film is in fact gathering its own tour dates, having received invitations to University of California Riverside and the Othello’s Island Shakespeare Festival in Cyprus, amongst others. 

Some of the intrigue around the book has to be connected to its claim to be the first English novel, but it is also a very funny and surprisingly accessible text. Beware the Cat is a little known satire of magic and religious controversy written during a time of immense political and social change. Centred on grisly alchemical experiments and narrated by a curious priest who wants to understand the language of cats, the story asks a question that has provoked humans across the ages: do animals, birds and bees have reason?

The original work by William Baldwin has never been published as a modern edition and was only ‘re-discovered’ by the academic community in the 1990s. Our project continues to attract an incredible range of opportunities for dissemination- from the national press to academic journals and animal studies publishing to animal rights organisations. Please see a recent Guardian article here.

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