Review: Catch Me If You Can (Theatre Royal Glasgow)
Updated: Jul 28, 2023
A Wife Lost in the Mountains and A Play Lost in Time
“Comedy’s not how it used to be.” “Theatre isn't as good as it once was.” “You don’t see anything like as good as the classics these days.” As a young person, being fed up with people older than myself complaining about the state of entertainment is a cliché as old as time. But once in a while, a show comes along specifically for that demographic of theatre-goers that aren’t satisfied with modern theatre. Make no mistake, Catch Me If You Can is a show for older folks longing for a show from years gone by. In this 1965 classic Broadway play by Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, we meet the newly-wedded Daniel (Patrick Duffy) pacing the floorboards of a Chalet in the Catskill Mountains, waiting for his wife to return after her mysterious disappearance and badgering local detective Inspector Levine (Gray O’Brien). But not to fear, newly-appointed priest Father Kelleher (Ben Nealon) arrives at the door with happy news; his wife Elizabeth (Linda Purl) has returned safe and sound! Trouble is, when she walks through the door, Daniel insists he has never met this woman in his life.
Photo Credit: Jack Merriman
This is a production that has been unusually loyal to the time period of its text. First, there’s the obvious: much of the comedy has aged poorly, chiefly the blatant sexism. We are barely a minute into the performance before we get our first I-hate-my-wife joke. Although Elizabeth is outwardly villainous and cunning enough to demonstrate she has agency, it’s not enough to justify the casual misogyny and objectification which makes up every other line of Inspector Levine’s dialogue. But even if we overlook the play’s treatment of women, the dramaturgy of this play is that of a different era. The set-up, the performances, and most importantly the comedic timing are all quite uncanny – familiar enough to be recognisable, but still adrift from the visual and comedic language that we as audiences have become accustomed to. In fact, when Purl enters the stage with a perfect Transatlantic accent, I become convinced that the performance is actually an adaptation of an old early-mid 20th-century comedy. Not so, but I think the fact that it would so easily fit that mould speaks volumes about what director Bob Tomson and producer Bill Kenwright had in mind for this production, and why it’s at odds with modern audiences.
Laughs amongst the audience are few and far between, which has a lot to do with the confused tone. The show advertises itself as a mystery and a thriller but plays much more like a crime comedy. The indecision bleeds into every plot point; from the first moment when we meet Daniel and the detective their humour and laid-back attitudes would convince you that the man had lost his cat, not his wife. At times the plot takes itself seriously, sketching out dramatic moments of threats, blackmail, and action. Ironically these moments are some of the most poorly executed of the play since the stage combat is laughably clumsy. In fact, it’s not just the action that undermines this “thriller”, but the performances too; all the interactions lack purpose and bite. Purl gives the most committed performance and is clearly having fun in the role, but she can’t save the weak material that she is working with. It is quite something to watch one character declare to another that they intend to kill them, and to still feel utterly ambivalent about the situation. This declaration in itself is testimony to how shamelessly heavy-handed and contrived the plot is; it is choc-full of unexplained moments, loose ends, plot holes, and ill-conceived twists. It would almost be entertaining from an ironic, so-bad-its-good perspective if it wasn’t so stale.
Of course, we can’t judge all theatre from the past based on one unsuccessful revival, but really that is the whole point; this is not a show from the past, it is just masquerading as one. Theatre by its nature belongs in the moment in which it is performed – there is no way to experience a show from a different time with different tastes unless you were there. To attend Catch Me If Me You Can now means attending a performance which is knowingly out of touch. It is more than simply being a play-out-of-time, it has flaws and strengths that will stand out in any year, but the lasting impression of this museum-piece misfire is that good and bad theatre exists no matter what decade you are living in. Two stars.
Whispers from the Crowd: "It was good, enjoyable. There were a few unexpected twists."
"I thought it might be based off an old film."
"The production was really good, really rightly done. They had rehearsed well." "It was quite tongue-in-cheek humour, it was good to have that lightness. It was much better than expected."
Catch Me If You Can will run at Theatre Royal until July 2