Catch Me If You Can – The Alexandra, Birmingham

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Writers: Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert

Director: Bob Tomson

Daniel Corban should be the happiest man in the world. Following a brief and intense romance, he’s headed off on honeymoon with his beautiful new wife, Elizabeth, to a summer cottage in the Catskills. But something has happened – a tiff over musical tastes has led Barbara to rush out and drive Daniel’s car away and he has no choice but to report her missing to the local police in the person of Inspector Levine. A visit from a local priest, Father Kelleher, should raise his spirits as he returns Elizabeth to Daniel. Case Closed. Except that Daniel is clear that this woman is an impostor and not his wife. A game of verbal nip-and-tuck follows as both Daniel and Elizabeth try to provide the necessary proof that their story is true – and each is repeatedly rebutted by the other. As the evening wears on and other characters enter the mix, it’s clear that something is not right and we begin to question everyone and everything we see and hear.

Originally written in 1965, the creative team has wisely left the setting at that time. Julie Godfrey’s log cabin set evokes the period with its soft furnishings and huge radiogram, and, of course, a telephone on a ridiculously long cord. But that very detail has the effect of making the whole feel somewhat static with characters disappearing into side rooms for no obvious reason other than to facilitate plot points. The script is well-written and full of humour, the dialogue naturalistic. And the lead actors – Patrick Duffy as Daniel, Linda Purl as Elizabeth, Gray O’Brien as Inspector Levine and Ben Nealon as Father Kelleher all display faultless comic timing in the cut-and-thrust of wordplay.

Duffy is softly spoken as Daniel. His increasing frustration as he is unable to convince others that Elizabeth is an impostor is played well. The highs and lows of his moods as he grasps straws that might support his case only to see them snatched away are entirely believable. His descent into a maelstrom of madness as he accuses pretty much the entirety of the Catskills of being in some sort of huge conspiracy is telegraphed effectively. O’Brien’s Levine is world-weary, not unlike Peter Falk’s Columbo, even down to the well-worn mac: he’d much rather be chasing missing jewellery than listen to Daniel’s increasingly incoherent ramblings. He seems to play one spouse off against the other in his own game of cat-and-mouse. Nealon’s Father Kelleher is the archetypal stage priest, keen to pour oil on troubled waters and offer a sympathetic ear – an offer that is brushed aside by the increasingly paranoid Daniel. He has quickly formed a bond with Elizabeth which only serves to make Daniel more suspicious of him and his motives.

At the hurricane’s eye is Purl’s Elizabeth. This is an especially slippery character to get hold of – we might think we’ve got to grips with her and her motivations, but, again, something is just not quite right. Purl plays Elizabeth to perfection, keeping us guessing right to the end.

While the set is well-appointed, the sound quality is somewhat variable. The cast’s voices seem to be amplified, but that also seems to be a bit hit-and-miss, with the effect that some phrases can slip into inaudibility. This is maybe compounded by Bob Tomson’s understated direction, especially before the interval when the pace can feel laboured: there’s a surfeit of softly spoken dialogue that certainly adds to the mildly surreal feeling as the play progresses and its twists and turns start to fall over one another.

The central conceit of Catch Me If You Can is interesting and the experienced and skilful cast is certainly committed to delivering it. While this is not a fast-moving caper, it’s measured and one is indeed left wondering whom to believe until the final reveal that ties up all the loose ends, leaving one satisfied.

Runs Until 30 April and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Ultimately Satisfying

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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