BWW Reviews: CATCH 22, Birmingham Rep, May 20 2014
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller has been dubbed one of the greatest literary works of the 20th Century. The book was published in 1961 followed by a feature film in 1970 directed by Mike Nichols. The story is set in World War II and focuses on a group of US Army Air Force men - one in particular called Captain John Yossarian. The men do what they can in order to survive so they can go home to their families but their rank superiors keep throwing obstacles in their paths to try and keep them longer.
The set is the best one that I have seen on the Birmingham Rep stage for years. Half of a B-25 aircraft carrier takes up almost the entire width of the space which has been transformed into a hangar. Jon Bausor has pushed the boundaries and created a visual feast for the eyes. Although it is a static set, there is always plenty to look at. Because of its grandeur occasionally the other settings can get a little confused but this is infrequent.
The director Rachel Chavkin states, and I quote, "The novel doesn't adapt easy" and "its timeline is jumpy". She is absolutely correct on both counts and therefore had an almighty task on her hands. She ensured the storytelling was as strong as it could be but unfortunately the material felt confused on the whole. The premise was clear throughout but there wasn't really a strong storyline to keep the audience's focus - particularly at 3 hours 10 minutes long!
The cast are first class and each person gives a committed performance. Philip Arditti has the lead role and does the best he can with the tough material. It is very much an ensemble piece and all should be commended on the support they show Arditti throughout the production. I particularly enjoyed the musical segment which was performed underneath Yossarian's dialogue towards the end of Act One - it was really beautiful. The cast also attacked the choreography well, devised by Rashdash. As much as I enjoyed this, it was very out of place.
Technically Scott Twynholm's sound design should also be applauded as there is a lot of detail which was addressed brilliantly. The lighting by Charles Balfour suits the hangar setting very well but there wasn't a great deal of change when based in other settings.
Catch 22 by Northern Stage is at Birmingham Rep until 24 May and tours until the end of June 2014.