Catch 22

Nov 13 2019 | By More

★★★★☆  Catchy

The Biscuit Factory: Tues 12 – Sat 16 Nov 2019
Review by Hugh Simpson

As with so many great books, Catch-22 seems to have defied dramatic representation over the years. And while EGTG’s version at the Biscuit Factory does not necessarily kill off such an idea, is still an extremely impressive production.

Joseph Heller’s classic anti-war novel sees Captain Yossarian suffering under the catch of the title, which states (among other things) that only a sane person would want to stop flying bombing missions. It is accordingly impossible to be grounded through insanity, as anyone trying to get out of flying cannot be mad.

Keegan Siebken and Gordon Houston Pic: Gordon Hughes

This paradox – and the world of frighteningly Kafkaesque bureaucracy surrounding the killing apparatus of the military-industrial complex it embodies – is only one of several tricksy things about the novel. The time scheme and switching of narrative work better on the page than dramatically, and many of the funnier lines sound a trifle arch when spoken out loud.

While it seems to have been proved that it does not work as a film – and the jury is still out on the more conventionally Hollywoodish miniseries – it might work as a play. However, Heller’s own adaptation, as presented here, is far from a definitive endorsement of this theory.

Those problems with tricksiness aside, the main problem is that, despite cutting whole swathes of narrative, there is far too much going on. Even with frantic doubling, there are over forty characters, and anyone without a knowledge of the story is going to have a job keeping up.

commendably pacy

That said, the play still has a compelling mixture of humour and anger, of emotion and frustration, and the Grads do about as good a job as could be imagined with it.

This is due largely to a commendably pacy approach from director Hannah Bradley. Chris Allan and Michael Mulligan’s deconstructed-bomber set makes a virtue of the Biscuit Factory’s notoriously placed pillars, and the staging proves intimate, dynamic and utterly involving.

Gordon Houston and Bethany Cummingham Pic: Gordon Hughes

Gordon Houston’s Yossarian is a winning mixture of the crumpled and the defiant, providing a thoroughly likeable anti-hero. There is a pleasing physicality to his performance which is never overdone; this could equally be said of a great many of the cast.

There are some excellent comic performances – Richard Godden excels as promotion-obsessed Colonel Cathcart and a repressed psychiatrist, while Lawrence Wareing’s Major Major Major is a beautifully judged representation of the profound absence that lies at the heart of military authority.

Dimitri Woods gives the naive chaplain a beautifully rounded characterisation, while Bethany Cunningham’s Nurse Duckett is wonderfully believable. There is a scene featuring her and Houston towards the end of the first half that is at odds with much of the rest in terms of its pace and pathos that works superbly.


The doubling, trebling and more of the parts does cause problems. While John Lally’s two main roles – the despairing Doc Daneeka and a psychotic investigating officer – are sufficiently well differentiated, this is not true of everyone else. The fault lies more with the adaptation than the actors, but it is not always clear that they are playing different characters. Keegan Siebken’s conniving Whitcomb and arch-capitalist mess officer Milo Minderbinder, for example, are well done but too similar.

Steven Croall, Gordon Houston and Joshua McDiarmid. Pic: Gordon Hughes

This crystallises the adaptation’s problem – Minderbinder’s story, which results in him bombing both sides in the war as a subcontractor, is one of the most ludicrously chilling things in the book, and should either get the time it deserves or be cut completely. Unfortunately, Heller’s own adaptation tends to fall between two stools, and its existence means it is less likely anyone with more distance from the text will get a go at it in the near future.

All of the other performers acquit themselves very well, but there are just too many people represented for even a fourteen-strong cast to cope with.

What is completely satisfying is the reluctance to burden all of the cast with American accents; some have a natural advantage in this regard, some attempt them and some are not even expected to. While this seems odd at first, it soon becomes entirely natural, and a couple of the more unexpected accents add greatly to the texture of the production.

Gordon Hughes’s atmospheric lighting and Craig Robertson’s sound design, with some notably well chosen music, help add to the overall effect of a production that warms a decidedly chilly Biscuit Factory with its effort and theatrical zeal.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes (including one interval).
The Biscuit Factory, 4-6 Anderson Place, EH6 5NP
Tuesday 12 – Saturday 16 November 2019
Evenings at 7.30 pm.
Tickets £12 in advance: Book here
And £15 on the door.

EGTG website:
Facebook: @edingrads/
Twitter: @TheGrads
Instagram: @edingrads

Graham Pritz-Bennett, Gordon Houston, Wendy Brindle and John Lally. Pic: Gordon Hughes


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