levine and Corbans

Gray O' Brien as Inspector Levine, Patrick Duffy as Daniel Corban and Linda Purl as Elizabeth Corban. Pictures: Jack Merriman

Catch me if you can

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


Even the would-be Miss Marples among the amateur sleuths in the audience would have needed telepathic powers – or a script – to see the twist coming at the end of this entertaining thriller.

The play dates back to 1965 but to be fair is hardly showing its age as it gently draws you in with layer after layer of intrigue, and a couple of murders to keep you on your toes.

We open in a realistic, up-market log cabin set from Julie Godfrey, located somewhere in the Catskills in upstate New York. Advertising executive Daniel Corban has reported his wife of two weeks missing, she stormed out of their honeymoon retreat after a row about Stravinsky apparently – said it was upmarket - and he is awaiting the arrival of police inspector Levine for an update on the search.

Patrick Duffy - remember Bobby Ewing in Dallas – is a credible, worried-sick husband, desperate to find his wife who has been missing for three days, while Gray O’Brien is a delight as the world-weary, small-town detective with a wonderful line in wry asides and put downs. Some comic gems in there to lighten the mood.

The manhunt is more a we’ll see if she turns up hunt with no suggestion of foul play to muddy the water, and the good detective can see no crime, just a new wife who has walked out on her new husband – end of. Maybe she will come back, maybe she won’t - either way he doesn’t really see it as a police matter.

And that’s how it will stay until Elizabeth, Mrs Corban, turns up, which should be the end of the story – a short play admittedly, but really not much else to say . . . except Daniel claims the woman is not his wife, he doesn’t recognise her, has never seen her before and declares she’s an imposter.

Linda Purl, with a host of theatre, TV and film roles behind her, including Fonzie’s girlfriend, Ashley, in Happy Days, has wife Elizabeth off to a delightful tee, loving in public less so in private, all adding to the deepening intrigue.

daniel and elizabeth

Daniel and . . . possibly Elizabeth . . .  

Duffy and Purl, incidentally, are in a relationship in real life, so he probably did recognise her, but then that’s acting for you.

Throw in a likeable priest, Father Kelleher, played by Ben Nealon, responsible for bringing the worried Elizabeth back home, and Sidney, played by Hugh Futcher, the old timer owner of Sidney’s world-famous sandwich shop – the Catskills being a small world - and the plot thickens even more.

Daniel we discover has had a spell in a rest home, which is a euphemism for a psychiatric facility, hinting that his own particular picnic might be one of Sam’s world famous sandwiches short, as he is left desperately trying to find proof that that this Elizabeth is not his Elizabeth.

The splendid cabin belongs to his boss, Everett Parker, Paul Lavers, who uses it for business meetings of the extra marital kind, and when he turns up with Mrs Parker – a name you suspect is merely borrowed – we remember Mr and Mrs Parker were the witnesses at Daniel’s wedding and, so, obviously will be able to recognise Elizabeth, maybe . . . or maybe not as another coat of mystery is sloshed on the plot.

If the suspicion that Daniel’s grasp on reality is not as firm as it might be is growing then a couple of murders thrown in the mix with Daniel’s hands all over them is not going to help.

But with evidence piling up against Daniel, Levine is starting to have his own doubts, it all seems too pat, which gives our beleaguered husband a glimmer of hope . . . ah well, there you go, the hope only lasts until the twist no one saw coming. Wham, bam thank you ma’am, whoever you are, and, when the smoke clears, everything clatters into place.

If one is honest the plot is somewhat far-fetched, and with hindsight, it stretches credulity way beyond belief; but, hindsight only comes after the turn everything on its head twist at the end.

By that point it is way too late, you have already been drawn in, hook, line and sinker, with every little action, every snippet of information, every nuance and aside, gobbled up, all adding to the mystery of a captivating, evolving thriller.

If one is being extra picky then it is with the script structure rather than the excellent acting where perhaps a little more could have been invested in the denouement and a little less in what could have been seen as padding earlier on, such as Sidney’s long conversation with a moose head on the wall, and a few plot points that could have been egged a little less.

But none of that detracts from a well-acted mystery thriller which has enough laughs to lighten the plot and enough twists and turns to keep you guessing until the final few minutes where a surprised silence and universal gasp from the audience sort of showed it was an ending no one expected. The result is a most entertaining and fascinating evening. Directed by Bob Tomson, catch it if you can at the Alex to 30-04-22.

Roger Clarke


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