- Gareth K Vile
- 18 November 2019
Good company, disappointing script
With an already large cast leaping between multiple characters; a raw scenography that makes imaginative use of the Biscuit Factory's rough architecture; and a solid direction from Hannah Bradley, the weaknesses of EGTG's production of Catch-22 come largely from the script's adaptation of Joseph Heller's novel. While the swift scene changes and strong ensemble ensure that the storytelling remains pacey and coherent, the density of ideas and the lack of deft characterisation leave the play a puzzling curiosity.
The cast do well to differentiate between their characters, given that they are written as broad caricatures dressed in similar costumes: the protagonist Yossarian is lent an earthy, cynical charm by Gordon Houston, and the absurd military figures – the acquisitive mess-hall officer, the glory-seeking general, the bemused chaplain – introduce a wild satire on the industrial military complex. Yet the plot, which is more philosophical reflection than focused narrative, is lost in a series of interactions which prefer to introduce another conundrum or paradox than develop the tragedy of men caught up in meaningless conflict.
Aside from Yossarian, few characters are more than plot devices or symbols of a particular corruption, and the women are shockingly transparent and under-written. Bradley's direction pushes past these limitations, and offers a well-structured and fast series of events that lead back to Yossarian's moment of realisation, but Catch-22's concerns are not appropriately condensed for the stage. The gender politics, and even the critique of warfare, are dated and only the excellence of the performances disguises their irrelevance.
EGTG are clearly a dynamic company, capable of rescuing a difficult script from its inherent limitations, and the use of lighting and sound lifts the verbose script into a more theatrical territory: a fine calling card for the ability of this veteran company, their director and cast. Ultimately, however, this production of Catch-22 is also an example of the dangers of adapting a novel for the stage.