Catch – 22 – The Biscuit Factory

Written by Joseph Heller

Directed by Hannah Bradley

Insidiously paradoxical, Captain Yossarian (Yo-Yo) finds himself confined by the titular catch of the airforce: those who are compos mentis enough to recognise the dangers of flying are sane enough to pass the medical. Which unfortunately means playing insane isn’t an option, as only the loons would put themselves forward to fly. Joseph Heller’s satirical war-drama Catch-22 surrounds itself in miscommunications and the improbable, so who better to tackle this than Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group?

Notoriously difficult, Heller’s Catch-22 claims the dignity of various adaptations which fail to grasp the nuances of balancing pathos which lacerating satire. A starkly timeless narrative, with nightmarish complexities surrounding bureaucracy, it primarily lampoons military narcissism and economics. In truth, it’s a text which reads far more impressively than it is often performed, then again, have EGTG ever been ones to shy from a challenge?

Evidently, director Hannah Bradley, along with Assistant director Hannah Fitzpatrick, has a firm grip on the structure of the production, and a deep care for the original novel. Honing in on the ironic elements, knowing this can instil a wider range of investment within a limited timescale, Bradley encourages performers to capitalise on people remembering humorous or big characters clearer than subtle performances.

And what a plethora to remember, without neglecting others, huge praise needs to be spoken for Gordon Houston, Richard Godden and Joshua McDiarmid’s performances, with extra kudos on offer to Bethany Cunningham who takes the smaller nursing role and makes it entirely her own. Bradley’s decision to have a larger representative production works beyond mere diversity, the chorus of female performers add to the flavour of scenes, Erini Stamkou pushing the psychotic extremes of American G.I’s fears over ‘others’ to the extreme.

Carrying a lengthy production, Houston achieves a precise level of defiance against the system, yet is also broken by its repetitious assaults to his body, psyche and spirit. He has a balance of over-zealous exasperation, channelling sensationally British comedy stars. He’s enthralling, drawing out the best of others, and matching wits with the more experienced performers of EGTG. The inevitability of death, a fascination of Heller’s, Yossarian is cast in a shadow of his follower, regardless of where he may venture.

One such wit, that of Godden, whose multiple performances build to a side-splitting rendition of a physiatrist in need of examination is a short, but paramount scene to the success of the production. Not all about the gallows humour, Cunningham and Dimitri Woods’ Chaplain crash the violent realities of war onto the stage. Woods’ performance grows in time, at first, it seems delicate, but an iron core is drawn out, with some soft-hearted humour cladding the character and representing the text’s loss of religious faith rather beautifully. Bolstering his part by the fact his primary role, like Houston, is one which never alters into secondary or tertiary parts, which is sadly where some performances flounce.

This becomes particularly evident with time shifts, especially when performers take on two-separate roles within minutes of each other. There needs to be a distinctly apparent change, which needs to stretch beyond a physical switch for some performers. This can be seen with the epitome of capitalist thrift, Milo Minderbinder. A fascinating character, but Siebken’s other, much smaller parts, can’t measure to the same quality. Free to exaggerate characters, the cast can become too large, too reliant on simple physical characteristics, losing an intimacy or recognition with the audience.

It’s an intrinsic issue with the text, valiant as their attempt is, a cast of fourteen, regardless of talent, will find a struggle in representing such a high volume of characters. It makes for messy moments, which tangle themselves up in what has been a wonderfully weaved web of understanding. Untangling one issue, that of how to stage a piece like this has been methodically thought through.

The Biscuit Factory, a sensational venue which deserves greater recognition, is the prime setting for Bradley’s decision to assail us into the action. Thrust staging creates awkward situations, but a testament to the thought process behind Catch-22, there is little question that a seat anywhere would offer a clear viewing. What’s more, going beyond simple seating, Bradley’s concept of placing us within the confines of the famous B-25windows captures ensnaring claustrophobia, brilliantly designed by Chris Allan and Michael Mulligan.

Aiding immensely in this transition, particularly to separate scenes, or the passing of time is Gordon Hughe’s seamless lighting design. Few of the transitions are pronounced, rather they reinforce the emotion of a scene without detracting from performers, complimentary in execution. Whether this is bathing the cold, unfeeling concrete of The Biscuit Factory in the lurid verdure of madness, or a stark rose of passion, it’s impressive world-building.

The impotence of language laces through the production, from the obvious censorships of Washington Irving to how language can circumvent logic, it’s clear how much of a grasp on Catch 22 Bradley and EGTG have. This alone is a testament to the theatre companies ability with fathomable shows, which they stage in ways others would turn from, in venues many wouldn’t consider. Catch-22 is by no means an easy watch, though, by no fault of the team, its errors lie within Heller’s engorgement of the character roster and his overlapping motifs and words. What Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group are performing at this moment is one of the closest adaptations, while being so inherently different, that there is no doubt Heller would be proud of its creative impossibility and is an absolute must-watch.

Catch – 22 runs at The Biscuit Factory until Saturday November 16th. Tickets are available from: https://theegtg.com/2019/08/30/catch-22/

Rambert2 – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Image Contribution:
Foteini Christophilopoulou 

Choreographer:  Benoit Swan Pouffer, Rafael Bonachela, Sharon Eyal & Gai Behar

Eight hundred hopefuls from across the globe applied to the fresh, younger sibling of the long-established Rambert. This sister corporation – Rambert2, would accept a mere thirteen of the exceptional dancers. Focusing on this new talent, Rambert2 showcases their abilities to shape the future of movement with a triple bill of original dance pieces.

A convulsing mass of flesh, Grey Matter draws us inwards to ourselves. Largely a group composition, the swaying of cells and bulk works in tandem with the music of GAIKA. It’s a vivid soundtrack, matching with the involuntary muscular twitches from dancers. Choreographed by artistic director Benoit Swan Pouffer the movement shows the considerable talent of the dancers serving as a unit. The shifting cellular patterns, somehow working as one body – yet each an induvial performer.

There is not a toe out of line, no comment can be remarked to the quality of the choreography outside of its exceptionally high standard. This is why Rambert is among the best. They possess an ability to work as one erupting nebulous of thought throughout Grey Matter, yet it’s not difficult to get to grips with each individuals way of movement – who has grander curvature, tighter shoulder pops or exaggerated expression.

Remnants of a traditional form of movement remain, laced into small fluid steps located in all three of the performances, though notably in the finale. Rambert2 above other creations from the company has youth at the forefront of its intention. With this in mind, it’s the second piece named after a previous dancers postcode which looks to the contentious trials of the future.

Dystopian aggression, a building resentment which combusts onstage is at the heart of E2 7SD, the shortest of the triple bill. Length aside it has the prospect of being a powerful piece, losing this ability in its sound sculpture. Conor Kerrigan and Aishwarya Raut manage to communicate with the audience well, their bodies snapping into one another in a volatile movement, building slowly upon one another. The rhythm is not at fault, lines are attempted above the already heavy beats of the score as they become drowned out, losing focus. The overlaying sound work seeks to enhance but draws attention away from the dance.

Killer Pig is what Rambert2 has been building up to this evening. Choreographers Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar achieve a hypnotic form of physicality within their performers. To make the dance feel inhuman, pumping chests with dancers on demi-pointe. How limbs pulse and dislodge in synchronised perfection is mesmeric, the entire routine feels unnatural, but this is the desired effect. Their recognisable dance forms, as previously stated, several in the form of cabaret. Gnarling fingers contort the once majestic ballet swan, technically it is the superior of the three.

While an extreme piece, with every dancer bringing an unnervingly grisly performance element, the endurance works both ways. With dancers visibly draining from the experience – the audience finding themselves tiring of Killer Pig’s multiple false climaxes.

Rambert is the envy of others in its field, though Rambert2 has an odd sense of pacing. For a generally short production, it feels drawn out. Taking aim at the future of the movement, the harshness of the dance is strikingly bold, Killer Pig, in particular, an amalgamed swaying of disturbing, yet enticing visuals. If this is where the sister company of Rambert is heading, it is succeeding in latching our curiosity.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/rambert2-kings-theatre-edinburgh/

For information on Rambert: http://www.rambert.org.uk/mixed-bills/rambert2/

An Evening of Eric and Ern @ King’s Theatre

Image contribution:
Eric & Ern

Performed by Ian Ashpitel & Jonty Stephens

There are few great double acts, and none hold quite the same place in the hearts of the nation as Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. Proficient in puns, the unfortgettable maestros of timing live on and on and on in An Evening of Eric and Ern.

A veritable pick ‘n’ mix of their best-suited gags for the touring production, the show has a sketch everyone will remember. Even those who didn’t live to see the pair will have some sense of recognition twitched by either Mr Memory or the pair’s duet of Bring Me Sunshine.

Writers and performers Jonty Stephens (Eric) and Ian Ashpitel (Ernie) forgo parts of the narrative dealing with Morecambe’s passing and Wise’s subsequent stint alone for a two-hour run crammed full of humour, song and dance. For fans, there is a deep emotional link. An immense wave of nostalgia fills the theatre as the audience smirk before jokes – already knowing each punchline.

It takes a frosted heart to not be thawed by the sunshine given off by Stephens and Ashpitel. The joy, evident in the faces of the pair, shows that this isn’t so much a job for them but a tribute. The audience interaction, natural flow in delivery and acknowledgement of flubs, technical issues or rowdy fans all work towards a pleasant experience.

Rather than imitate, Ashpitel and Stephens replicate the duo in an astonishing manner; every aspect has been studied, honed and perfected, whether this is visually or vocally but most notably in comic timing and delivery. Their proficiency shines in everything from the tiny facial tics as Stephens askews Morecambe’s signature specs to Ashpitel’s song sequences.

Despite solid performances, a fine selection of routines and charming guest singer Shona White, the production suffers from losing its original narrative. So much heart is lost in the removal of Ernie’s tenure alone, the passing of Eric and the more unique interactions that the pair have. The jaunt down memory lane is enjoyable, but it falls short in offering something new.

An Evening of Eric and Ern is everything you suspect it to be – a magnificent embodiment of Morecambe and Wise’s greatest sketches presented by accomplished performers. It neglects, though, to do little more than this.

Review originally published for The Skinny:
https://www.theskinny.co.uk/theatre/shows/reviews/an-evening-of-eric-and-ern

Production Touring:
http://www.ericandlittleern.co.uk/