Playing this week at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, is a touring production of ‘Catch Me if You Can’ starring legendary American actor Patrick Duffy. Judging by the whoops of approval from ladies of a certain age when he entered the stage (we followed a group of them into the foyer and their anticipation was palpable), Duffy is still setting hearts a’ flutter some decades after he rose to international fame as Bobby Ewing in the hit show ‘Dallas’.
‘Catch Me if You Can’ is a clever, tight, gripping thriller that keeps you intrigued, guessing, second- and even third-guessing from the start to the dramatic conclusion. Daniel Corban (Patrick Duffy) pins up a sign in a remote mountain lodge welcoming home his wife, Elizabeth. She has been missing for a few days, and Inspector Levine (Gray O’Brien) suspects it’s nothing more serious than a lover’s tiff. When Corban is visited by Father Kelleher (Ben Nealon), the cleric comes with happy news, and brings the missing Elizabeth Corban (Linda Purl) back to reunite her with her worried sick husband. There’s just one problem: Corban insists that the woman standing before him isn’t his wife. In fact, he’s never seen her before in his life…
The immediately intriguing premise gives rise to a highly satisfying thriller that makes the audience doubt and suspect just about everyone at least once. It has the feel of a well-plotted Agatha Christie play, replete with the same high levels of suspense. However, ‘Catch Me if You Can’ goes deeper into the human psyche than even the best of Christie’s works managed. As the woman insists that she is Elizabeth Corben, and Corban sets about persuading others that she is an imposter, the audience is drawn into one man’s increasingly desperate existential crisis. Is he mad, or is he the victim of some horrible yet well-planned deceit? And who is telling the truth, since clearly both alleged Corbens can’t be who they say they are. This delves into the issue of mental health too: as Corban’s sense of himself is repeatedly called into question, his sanity frays around the edges. The play pleasingly teases out suspicion, paranoia and doubt as each scene adds another tantalising detail to the mystery.
One of the best aspects of ‘Catch Me if You Can’ is the half-time analysis during the interval. We took bets on who was telling the truth and who would turn out to be not who they purported to be. As for the final score? Trust me, you don’t want any spoilers, but let’s just say we were both half right but about different characters (but mostly completely wrong). One shared ‘I told you so’ glance during the second act turned out to be a premature instance of falling for a red herring and even more egg on the face later. ‘Catch Me if You Can’ will tickle the fancy of enthusiastic armchair sleuths everywhere. There are clues to spot if you have your wits about you!
A play as tightly-coiled and finely-balanced as ‘Catch Me if You Can’ requires slick direction (which Bob Tomson achieves) and a good cast – and this one is mighty fine. It’s Patrick Duffy who is the star appeal, and he proves his acting mettle here. His increasingly neurotic Daniel Corban put us in mind of James Stewart trapped inside a Hitchcock plot. Duffy brilliantly conveys the inner thought processes of his character’s torment, and his effortless charm ensures that the audience is rooting for him right from curtain up. Linda Purl is equally good as his foil, Elizabeth. Feisty, commanding, confident: her characteristics are the polar opposites of Corban’s, leading to a gratifying contrast and, especially for a 1965 play, a neat inversion of the usual characteristics of the sexes. Duffy and Purl have great stage chemistry that gives the play plenty of energy. Ben Nealon gets to show plenty of facets to Father Kelleher, while Gray O’Brien has all the best lines as the wise-cracking and put-upon Inspector Levine. We also loved Hugh Futcher’s delightful and hilariously eccentric turn as dotty local shopkeeper Sidney.
‘Catch Me if You Can’ had us engrossed from the first scene, making predictions right through the interval and nattering about its finally-revealed secrets all the way home. That’s a sure sign of a thoroughly entertaining night out at the theatre. It’s not quite perfect: there are one or two unearned moments. The most glaring example is a cliffhanger ending to an act that fails to be resolved once the next scene starts. But in a play that keeps offering clever twists and reversals of expectations, one doesn’t linger too long on the odd moment that doesn’t reward close attention.
Overall, we enjoyed every aspect of ‘Catch Me if You Can’, not least the 1960s setting that the plot relies upon. Smart phones, CCTV, GPS – all of our digital fingerprints would conspire to render the play nonsensical if transposed to the modern era, allowing audiences to bask in the nostalgic glow of a Swinging Sixties period. Impressive set design (Julie Godfrey) gives the actors plenty of space to breathe, and ingenious lighting (Chris Davey) subtly conveys the passage of time. This production proves that ‘Catch Me if You Can’ is ripe for a revival. A charismatic cast led by Patrick Duffy breathes new life into a classic thriller. Catch it if you can.
Cast: Patrick Duffy, Linda Purl, Gray O’Brien, Ben Nealon, Hugh Futcher, Chloe Zeitounian, Paul Lavers Director: Bob Tomson Writers: Jack Weinstock, Willie Gilbert Theatre: Churchill Theatre, Bromley Running time: 125 mins Dates: 20-25th June 2022 Book now