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Catch Me If You Can

by on 12 April 2022

The Moosetrap

Catch Me If You Can

by Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert

Bill Kenwright Productions at Richmond Theatre until 16th April, then on tour until 3rd July

Review by Andrew Lawston

Billed as a psychological thriller, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert’s play Catch Me If You Can, based on a French play by Robert Thomas, has a darkly comic streak that runs from the opening moments through to the final curtain.  But rather than being any kind of parody, the humour arises from the tense and unusual situation, as well as from the dry wisecracks of Inspector Levine, the exasperated detective charged with recovering Mrs Corban.

The whole play unfolds in the house in the mountains, a tasteful design by Julie Godfrey which evokes a luxurious 1960s setting, without pandering to clichés – reminiscent of the murderers’ homes in early episodes of Columbo.  With the first half set in the evening, and the second half the following morning, Chris Davey’s lighting is suitably simple, but completely effective.

Elizabeth Corban is missing.  Following a squabble with her new husband, advertising executive Daniel Corban, she has left the remote house in New York’s Catskill Mountains, in which they were honeymooning.  After several days with no news, Daniel frets, and worries, and puts up hopeful signs welcoming her home, which he hangs from a giant moose head that hangs over the comfortable property’s fireplace.

Preoccupied with a big insurance fraud case at a nearby hotel, Levine’s patience is tested to breaking point when Elizabeth Corban returns to the house accompanied by a local priest, Father Kelleher, only for Daniel to claim that she is not, in fact, his wife.

Is Daniel paranoid, or are they really out to get him?

While never losing the light comic touch, the plot twists and turns in unexpected directions.  Some of the twists are signposted, only to turn out to be a double bluff moments later.  There are a few scenes which make a lot more sense when you think about them later, in the context of the ending, but which don’t jar at the time.

Patrick Duffy leads the cast as Daniel Corban.  His performance is softly-spoken but charismatic, and his concern about his missing wife is gradually overlaid with confusion about the impostor claiming to be Elizabeth Corban, fear over what this deception might mean for him, and a quiet but steely determination to catch out the vivacious stranger in her cheerful lies.  He gives a strong and sympathetic performance, and the audience clearly roots for him throughout.

Corban’s main foil is Inspector Levine.  Played by Gray O’Brien with huge energy, the wisecracking detective provides a striking and effective contrast with the soft-spoken Daniel Corban.  The relationship between the two men shifts constantly as Daniel tries to convince the detective that the woman claiming to be his wife is an impostor who plans to kill him and claim his life insurance.  Levine wants to believe Corban, but the man’s constant agitation, implausible story, and complete lack of evidence all make it very difficult to convince the detective.

Father Kelleher is played by Ben Nealon as an affable local priest, but even from his first entrance, he has a certain oily quality.  When Corban begins to suspect the priest is in league with the impostor Elizabeth, the audience are broadly in agreement.  Nealon arguably has less to work with than the other three leads, but his character is wonderfully shifty.

Elizabeth herself, played by Linda Purl, is a revelation.  She is instantly convincing as Daniel’s wife, long after various twists make it clear that the situation is far more complicated than it appears.  She switches from loving wife to brazen crook and beyond with consummate ease.

Director Bob Tomson keeps the pace and energy high throughout the first half, and only lets it drop a fraction after the interval, set the following morning.  As Kelleher, Levine, and Daniel and Elizabeth Corban are well-established by this point, more characters arrive, to further muddy the water.  Hugh Futcher’s intensely likeable Sidney – the owner of a local sandwich shop – opens the second half by delivering brunch to Daniel, and briefly offers hope to the desperate man as he recalls seeing the real Elizabeth (a redhead) several days earlier.

Not long afterwards, however, Paul Lavers puts in a welcome turn as Everett Parker, the owner of the mountain retreat where the honeymooning couple are staying.  He appears to recognise the impostor Elizabeth, although he seems more preoccupied with “Mrs Parker” – Chloe Zeitounian making her UK stage debut in a brief but memorable role.

Revelations about Daniel Corban’s past continue to come thick and fast – he has had mental health problems in the past, is he delusional now?  The stakes continue to rise, and the tension continues to build – though humour is never far away – until the characters reach a conclusion that is surprising, but plausible and satisfying.  We immediately wanted to come back to Richmond Theatre the next evening and see the play again, to enjoy certain scenes while knowing the truth behind the deadly conspiracy hatched against Daniel Corban.  This is a gripping and highly enjoyable production of a highly-crafted play.

Andrew Lawston, April 2022

Photography by Jack Merriman

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