Venue: York Theatre Royal
Running: 13 May – 5 June
The Sheraton Hotel, New York, December 7, 1980. Mark Chapman plans to shoot and kill John Lennon. The next day, he does. The scene and the story have become exactly what the central protagonist desired them to be: infamous.
But there is an aspect of the story which is too often left untold. The night before what the press described as a frighteningly calm and calculated murder, Chapman invited a prostitute to his room, just to “talk”. And talk is exactly what they did, according to Richard Hurford’s piercing one-act script, which throws into question the limits of intimacy and the difficulty of ever really understanding another person’s psychological complexity.
Mitzi Jones’ authoritative performance, as one half of the estranged two-character piece, bursts frantically onto the set, with a quasi-omniscient narrative role. She plays prostitute “Sunny” (Chapman’s chosen name, according to Catcher, based on the events of his sacrosanct guidebook, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye). Chapman’s real-life obsession with the book’s dislocated anti-hero, Holden Caulfield, is well-documented. But Hurford’s Catcher takes the reality of Lennon’s death a step further, transferring the factual evidence into a new literary realm, where the character of Sunny becomes imperative to the progression of events. Sunny’s transition from middle-aged, retrospectively shrewd woman who we meet at the beginning of the play – dressed unsuspectingly in a beige mack with severely tied back hair – into the frivolous yet savvy young prostitute, is fierce and dynamic, and works with Ronan Summers’ performance of Chapman to spectacular effect.
The austerity and harshness of the set heightens the intensity of the script and the manic desperation of Chapman’s situation. Summers’ sometimes sober performance ultimately reaches an impressive crescendo that is carefully paced by director Suzann McLean, where he is ruler of the “little people” in his fragmentary, deluded world.
That’s not to say that Summers’ Chapman isn’t sympathetic. Jones and Summers are authentically awkward and misplaced in scenes of potential seduction, and the dialogue speaks of a deeper loneliness inherent in the cult of celebrity, giving the production a fresh and contemporary perspective. The audience is introduced immediately to Sunny as the central protagonist, and the details of her story in relation to the “three famous men” who will infiltrate her life forever from this moment on provide the backbone of the plot, and during Chapman’s autonomous dialogue she still constantly retains control of the scene. Never mind Holden Caulfield and his adolescent insecurities: the prostitute’s importance in the sequence of events is made startling crucial according to Catcher.
Resident theatre company Pilot Theatre never fails to combine realism with pertinent vitality, and Catcher is certainly no exception.