I was lucky enough to catch (er) the premier of Catch-22 at the Northern Stage on Saturday. I’ve been to quite a few shows there now, and they are generally good; an adaption of what I consider to be best book that I’ve ever read, I was optimistic. We had good seats as well, middle, fifth row (far enough away not to get a stiff neck, close enough to hear clearly).
Looking through the programme, I was confused as to who had made the adaption as it wasn’t not mentioned anywhere; fortunately, BBC News put me right; the play was my Joseph Heller himself.
The stage set was fantastic, a cut-away bomber with the back-end merging into a beach hut. Like the rest of the set, it was used for many purposes — as a plane, an office, an entrance way. The cast was the same; nine actors jumping backward and forward between roles, except for the actor playing Yossarian, who, as in the book, was a solitary figure in the middle of the madness.
On the whole, I think it worked rather well. It’s a mistake, I think, to compare it to the book directly; nothing ever could. Many fantastic parts were missed — including my own favorite great loyality campaign, and the shortening meant that only a few characters really came out of their own: Colonel Cathcart, Major Major, the Chaplain, Natley (and his whore). Not all of it, I think, made entire sense: the naked man in the tree was funny, but it wasn’t clear why Yossarian refused to wear his clothes; nor the ending, with Orr’s escape missing, it’s not clear why Yossarian got all optimistic. But how could there not be parts missing? The main thing is that the feel of the theatre show and the book are the same; it’s confused, dissonate, unsettling, challenging all at the same time as being very, very funny.
The BBC news article raises the question, in the 40 years since the play was written why has it not been performed more. Good question, indeed.