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/

Catch 22 Interview

Catch – 22 is running at The Biscuit Factory from November 12th – 16th. Tickets availble from: https://theegtg.com/2019/08/30/catch-22/

Building on their reputation for plunging head-first into tricky productions, Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group seem in safe hands with Hannah Bradley, whose directorial debut won her an award from the Scottish Community Drama Awards One-Act Festival. Taking Joseph Heller’s satirical text into Edinburgh’s The Biscuit Factory, Catch-22 sees Captain John Yossarian desperately evading the prospect of battle, but finds that regardless of anything – there is always a catch.

Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group’s Hannah Bradley was kind enough to dedicate time to discuss thoughts on a favourite of hers and the decisions behind its inclusion in EGTG’s 2019 repertoire:

Corr: So, we’ll get the obligatory question out of the way: Heller’s text is a classic, but let’s be honest, complicated. For you, why Catch – 22? Why a satirical-war drama?

Bradley: I love it. I genuinely love Catch-22, it’s up there as one of my favourite stories. I think the first time I read it I was fourteen, the copy of which I stole from my school library, so it says property of *redacted* on the inside cover. It’s likely why no one else in the school managed to read it.

Corr: Why is this something EGTG decided they wanted to undertake? With multiple incarnations, adaptations, not to mention to recent Channel 4 series – why now?

Bradley: It’s difficult because I don’t necessarily think anything in the story says it has to be done now, it’s more about how the story works all the time. That was the thing for me, it seems timeless, and I’m a bit of a Neo-Marxist, so Heller’s commentary on bureaucracy has only appealed to me as I’ve grown. I read it so many years ago, but that idea of getting tied up in red-tape, especially as a ‘millennial’ and not being able to rent a house in Edinburgh, or security, so all fo these ideas and issues which Heller puts forward seem relevant to me. The dull answer is EGTG supported me in my first directing foray, which was the play written by my great-Grandfather, which came third in the SCDA one-act festival

I feel you should have a connection with what you’re directing, and I didn’t have much of a connection to anything as much as this.

…and because they supported me last year, it was natural to do something in return for them this year. So, I wanted to do something with the group, and I was just looking at all of my favourite authors like Joseph Heller, Mikhail Bulgakov – you nearly got The Cabal of Hypocrites. And this one felt right. 

Corr: Now previously, you’ve also performed in pieces for EGTG, directing in this one, is this the passion project? Or are you a performer at heart?

Bradley: I think I’m changing because this is only the third production I’ve directed, I can’t say for certain, I can’t say it’s my only passion – my true passion is theatre, which is a really schmaltzy answer, isn’t it? 

Corr: We all trade in schmaltz here.

Bradley: I’ve performed for so long, that’s what I know, so I’m discovering directing, and I’m loving it. It’s amazing. 

Corr: How long have you been performing?

Bradley: Well, I was a dancer when I was four. Tap, Jazz and a little bit of country – Scottish. Then I did some theatre, took a break for around twelve years, and it was when I met my partner and discovered we had both done Youth Theatre and figured it would be a fun hobby for us both to have. We auditioned for a Fringe show, he got cast….

Corr: And you didn’t

Bradley: I did not. I didn’t speak to him for two weeks. Then I asked if there was a way to be involved, they offered me a role as stage manager and I discovered that I had a skill being backstage, I had a forte for it. So I stage-managed a couple of productions, I A.D’d a couple, and now I’ve directed a few.

Corr: Now, EGTG doesn’t fall into the categories which other companies do. You don’t go for ‘safe’ (Bradley: Yup) arguably marketable, so how as a group do you feel when productions such as these begin, Apprehensive, Enthusiastic? 

Bradley: Everyone is enthusiastic. So, I’m also part of the committee – we’ve got loads who are involved who are ambitious, and we all have different tastes. For example, we did All About My Mother last year, and it was only the second staging since it was originally done in 2011. We’ve done a couple of amateur U.K Premieres of productions for the States, for example, we performed August Osage County five years before Dundee Rep did. I think it’s down to the ambition of the people involved in the group, and we’re lucky that we have such history behind us, and it’s been developed so well that we’re able to take such risks. So we have an audience, a fan-base and following, we also have the collateral, quite frankly, to support that. By no means large, we have roughly 70 years-worth which helps. We like to do shows no one else is doing.

Corr: Which is why it’s been working for so long

Bradley: We did The LadyKillers a few years ago, I was the parrot. I thought I had been cast for my dulcet – BBC tones, but no, it was just because I was a good Cockney Parrot. We’re all doing this because we love it, and these people have really good taste.

Corr: What’s been the difficulties in directing this piece, have you taken any liberties, artistic licensing?

Bradley: Well, one of the things that we’re doing, is that we’re presenting it in thrust, and one of the most difficult things in directing this time around is ensuring a good show from all angles. It meant in early rehearsals I was focusing on if I could see everyone, and if I needed performers to be two-inches to the left. That’s been quite difficult, focusing on the structure of the show, because I’ve given myself this challenge of doing it with an audience on three sides. And of course learning people’s characters names, because there’s so many of them… there’s forty. We couldn’t cut them, we’re not able to cut the script, Heller’s estate wouldn’t allow this, but they were keen on us staging the show – they got back to us in minutes. So yeah, forty characters -14 actors.

We upped the number of women, Heller gives a suggested list of 10 men and 2 women, but we wanted more female representation. So many of the female performers have dual parts, forming a chorus.

Corr: It’s quite a small cast for such a large-character base. Is everyone rising to the challenge?

Bradley: Everyone has risen well, thankfully not everyone is putting on an American accent, even though it’s an American play. I feel Heller’s writing, particularly as a satire, lends itself to British humour well. It’s a fictional squadron based in Italy. And had you asked fourteen Scottish actors to develop four or five American accents 

Corr: They’d have turned on you quite quickly.

Bradley: Yeah, whereas if you say to them, you’ve got these characters – use your body and voice, use your full ability to create four distinct characters. So when you come onstage people know exactly who you are. It’s very much down to the actor, they’ve all created clear-cut characters, and I think that because it’s a satire, you don’t have to be flat, you can be bigger. There are some outrageous accents, which work so well, we don’t need to shoe-horn ourselves into things anymore.

Corr: So, The Biscuit Factory. Very different venue, it isn’t a traditional stage format.

Bradley: It’s grungy, which I feel works very well (Corr: Did you deliberately choose this?) I did, I didn’t look at many venues. Historically we have a relationship with the Roxy, but I had this mad idea where I wanted to stage it inside a plane.  

Corr: Not mad at all, not entirely sure how the budget would have coped…

Bradley: I started to look into cellar spaces, so underneath the Bongo Club, but Underbelly come along in August and… well. So, unfortunately, we couldn’t secure those, a shame with the Anderson shelter structure that you find beneath Edinburgh. I was going to put a propeller at the rear of the stage, which would have acted as an exit/entrance, that’s now evolved into this idea of sitting inside the nosecone of a B-25, with that indicative windowed bomber seat. So, this should feel like the play, and the audience is taking place in miniature. It should feel industrial, it should feel claustrophobic. 

Corr: I’ll make sure to let people know to dress comfortably.

Bradley: And to wrap up warm.

Corr: Speaking of wrapping up, I’ll give you the freedom to answer why, in November, with so much going on, what should bring people in?

Bradley: Because it isn’t Christmas yet. Because it’s really f**king good. The actors are incredible. I have no right to have managed this cast, they’re trusting me with this. Yes, it’s community theatre but one-third of the cast are working actors, another third has been doing this longer than I’ve been alive. They bring all of this experience with them and the final third are doing this because they genuinely love it. They’re in the story as much as I am, as much as the audience is. It’s funnier than George Clooney’s series as well. They wanted to make a Hollywood drama, that’s not what it is. We bring the satire back. We tried to invite him to see it, but sadly we couldn’t get in touch with him. 

Corr: How Rude. 

Tickets for the event can be purchased direct from EGTG’s website: https://theegtg.com/tickets/

A Crown of Laurels – Paradise in Augustines

Written & Directed by Ryan Hay

Composition & Musical Direction by Lavie Rabinovitz

Design by Danielle Connally

Choose your favourite sexual abuse paintings”, this is a quotation from the website Fine Art America. Wanton Theatre Co presents A Crown of Laurels, an adaptation of Apollo & Daphne, of which the attempted rape of a Greecian nymph by God Apollo is the subject.

Daphne wants to have fun; she’s been planning this evening for months now. Finally, her sisters and friends are all together and about to get leathered. The night doesn’t go to plan, separating from the group, Daphne finds herself in the arms of Olly. Daphne hopes to have found a connection she has been longing for. Olly, a handsome, middle-class white junior lawyer, has other ideas.

In terms of adaptation, it’s by the books. Little has profound development, and if you’re familiar with the original tale or Caroline Kepnes novels – you know the likely outcome. Or, so you would suspect. For the most part, the first act is pleasant, with amiable, at times compelling, vocals courtesy of Herron.

Projection is an issue within Paradise Sanctuary if you don’t have mic set-ups. Although allowing for the live band to receive the correct acoustics, it’s audibility drowns out vocals.

Aesthetically, A Crown of Laurels is stripped back – reliance is on the live band, performance elements and writing. There are however a series of glasses, drinks and cocktails sitting across the stage. In pairs, they are small reminders of the setting, a minute touch showing a working mind behind tiny details.

We suffer drawback in the character of Olly, who, while attempts are made to make him interesting, is notably flat. Hurley in no way turns out poor performance, but he’s overwhelmed by Herron who brings tighter vocals and diverse emotion.

Then it hits, like a truck laden with uncomfortable, unknown by many, truth. A serious monologue about the art world today is the real merit of this production. Faultless in execution, there’s a sense of glass-like fragility in Herron’s voice, but her command of the stage is iron. To discuss the profit made from sexual abuse, desensitisation in the arts community is noble cause we applaud. It’s an issue in discussion for theatrics circles, but less so in the arts community.

A Crown of Laurels has protentional to ripple a community with its direct approach towards the billion-dollar profit on the back of under-age ‘subjects’ and painters historic sexual abuse. With investable characterisation, projection and clearer vocals there’s a defining play here.