By Joseph Heller. Director: Morgan Little. Assistant Director: Bojana Kos. National University Theatre Society (NUTS). ANU Arts Centre, 22 – 25 August 2012.

Catch-22 (1961), Joseph Heller’s best-known novel, was adapted by Heller as a stage play in 1971.  It’s a long, sprawling, convoluted work (and that’s saying it as a fan of the book). How can it be compressed into an evening’s theatrical work? And how could it possibly express the multitude of characters, motivations, behaviours and confusion?

It’s possible: NUTS managed this. Yes, there has been careful pruning of characters and incidents, yet the essentials of the novel and play remain, showing the almost-nightmarish narrative and threatening atmosphere while celebrating the comic oddities and frailties of the characters.  In a city of bureaucracy like Canberra it is particularly amusing to see the madness of paperwork perpetrating its own daft rationale.  After all, Catch-22 is that anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t crazy, but as soon as you ask, you’re no longer crazy.

The cast of twelve works as a team. Each actor had moments where their abilities shone particularly bright, and be assured that the effort of maintaining a number of characters at a fast pace was appreciated and applauded by everyone. While the pace and movement seemed a little off-key and hesitant to start with, a sense of assuredness and confidence appeared soon.  The second act was considerably stronger than the first, possibly due to the establishment of characters by that point and the increased dramatic tension. 

The set is simple, almost deceptively ramshackle, yet it works very well for entrances and exits (departing in a huff, fleeing subordinates, pouncing on suspects, not to mention a shocking murder). Similarly the lighting is simple, changing only when necessary.

This play is only on until Saturday 25 August and I would urge you to see it if you can.

Rachel McGrath-Kerr

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