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BWW Reviews: CATCH 22, Richmond Theatre, June 24 2014

Yossarian's first mistake was to try to make sense of it all. Why is he flying ever more missions for Colonel Cathcart? Why is what is good for The Syndicate, good for the country? Why is his bombadier whispering over and over again that he is cold? Why, more than anything else, is everybody trying to kill him?

Joseph Heller's own adaptation of his celebrated novel shares the book's biting satire, its episodic structure and gallery of grotesque characters. Presented on a stage three parts occupied by a shot down bomber aircraft that never lets us forget what's at stake, Northern Stage's Catch 22 (continuing at Richmond Theatre until 28 June) shares many of Mike Nicholls's 1970 movie's successes and failures - inevitably. The dizzying kaleidoscope of characters and events, tracking forwards and backwards in time, is an exhilirating thrill when reading the book (for book reading is itself episodic): over three hours on stage, it can feel more tricksy and hectic, as soldiers, nurses and civilians march on and off stage (though allowing the actors to change costume without leaving our sight was a nice nod in the direction of its all being a bit too much).

On the plus side of the ledger, it's splendid to see Philip Arditti's eyes widen and his exasperation grow, as his Yossarian is pulled deeper and deeper into Colonel Cathcart's psychosis. And what a fantastic Colonel Cathcart we have! Michael Hodgson is utterly despicable, yet utterly compelling as the madly ambitious commander of the base, Hodgson never for one moment sending up his wildly over the top brief (though the temptation must have been enormous!).

Christopher Price does what he can with Milo Minderbinder, mess officer and black market trader supreme, but he's curiously underwritten in this adapatation - his explanation of why he organised the bombing and strafing of the base (my favourite sequence in the film and novel) inexplicably omitted. David Webber is given, and revels in, a wonderfully oily Colonel Korn, a decent but cowardly Major Major and a bemused (and dead) Doc Daneeka. You can't have them all (literally), you see!

Now towards the end of its tour, this production is a fine tribute to one of the last century's great literary and popular successes, sacrificing none of its bite - Aarfy's treatment of an Italian girl is as shockingly amoral on the stage as on the page or on film - and, with wars in hot dusty places still making money for syndicates and men dying for reasons of which they are at best unsure, at worst unaware, Heller's hell is as potently powerful an indictment of war today as it was fifty years ago.



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