Stage Review – Catch 22

Philip Arditti in CATCH-22
Philip Arditti in CATCH-22


 Geoff Arnold and Christopher Price in CATCH-22

Geoff Arnold and Christopher Price in CATCH-22

The novel, by Joseph Heller, Catch 22, was published in 1961. It has sold more than 10 million copies. It is often cited as one of the greatest novels of all time. Topical online, of late, as it was included in the recent Goodreads discussion piece entitled ‘The BBC Believes You Only Read 6 of These Books…’
This is a version of Heller’s own stage adaptation. The play, directed by Rachel Chavkin, is set in the closing months of World War II. Bombardier, Yossarian (Phillip Arditti), his comrades and commanders, are all trapped in the tangled web of war. Yossarian is the embodiment of someone who is cracking under the pressure from being part of a system that is largely corrupt and non-supportive. He, as most serving men were, is a non-combatant person by nature and so war is turning him neurotic and depressive. Yossarian finds the phrase Catch-22 keeps cropping up and it catches his attention. Most of the story is set in Italy, where the squadron are supplying aerial support for US troops fighting on the ground.
Note: Catch-22 is an idiom of the English Language and originated from the book


Comedic – includes absurd comedy, deadpan humour, physical comedy

Dramatic– air raids – includes flight rumblings and darkened stage, some scenes feature death, blood (and guts), medical emergencies and mental breakdown. Criminal investigations occur. A microphone is used loudly to create suspense, and baseball bats and balls are battered against corrugated metal to show frustration

Spiritual –  God, Religion and Atheism are mentioned in various contexts and on more than one occasion. A Chaplain (Geoff Arnold) is a constant character. Characters comment on a funeral/burial but we do not see it. Friendship bonds and comradeship are explored. Remembrance is a significant theme, as is human suffering and strife. The story is largely about the feeling of being duty bound and setting this against doing what one believes to be right

Violent – surprisingly non-violent considering the theme, when it does feature it is mainly conflict between characters in non-combative circumstances. There are no fighting scenes from the plane and no action scenes from the ground being under an air attack. Hand held weapons include a gun and a knife. No battle sounds other than those mentioned under ‘drama’. The men leave the stage for undertaking war activity and if they return afterwards they are battle scarred and battle weary

Sexual – characters kiss and lie together, some part undressing (bare back) – anything else is merely implied; on one occasion a male and female leave the stage for a bedtime romp. Prostitutes engage with others in mocking the nature of their profession. The language around this is mild. There is a rape – the audience is not witness to the act

Nudity – full frontal, male nudity features in one scene

Negative/Positive – so many positives for this production. I really liked the Yossarian character, Arditti is athletic and bright eyed and he maintains a ‘Rabbit in the Headlight’ expression throughout; he’s good. All other cast members play more than one character, and so expertly, I felt I knew each and everyone inside out by the end. I like the scene setting sounds: the crackly old periodic music and the Double Base being played deep and low. The dance moves are a fun element. Negatives are few – some scenes are a slightly precarious for actors performing on and around the biggest piece of cut out of military hardware you could imagine in a stage setting; and the fact the play is lengthy is a negative some scenes are slightly stretched. Play is 3 hours plus long (with interval)

LANGUAGE – Mainly American English and some English being spoken with Italian accent. Profanity minimal (if there is any at all)

Wow! What a clever piece of theatre, now I must read the book to compare!


Photography by Topher McGrillis

Review by Debra Hall, who attended Press Night on Monday 20 May at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre on behalf of Remotegoat – review is also published here



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