At first glance, you could be mistaken for believing this to be the story of John Lennon’s notorious assassin Mark Chapman. Is it in fact the story of Sunny, the prostitute Mark hires just to have a decent conversation with the night before his murder? Or could it be the story of John Lennon? Maybe it’s the story of Holden Caulfield, protagonist of Salinger’s 1951 novel Catcher In The Rye?
Set on the eve of Lennon’s assassination, 7 December 1980, Catcher is a culmination of everyone’s stories, not just those characters physically present. Mark (held together grippingly by an energetic Ronan Summers) explains that as opposed to trying to connect with characters in a novel, maybe the characters in the novel are trying to connect with the reader. Here Sunny is reaching out to us, the audience, to tell her story. This is a play about finding a connection, whether through music or through the page.
The well-crafted script snaps with a speedy pace throughout a 75 minute performance, which feels like it takes a whole evening to unfold; Hurford’s writing overall delivers a tight and consistent fictionalisation of this surreal encounter. Catcher’s set works well in the small environment of York’s Studio, the tight, nattily-patterned hotel room designed by Lydia Denno creeping out into our lives.
Though I don’t possess an in-depth knowledge of Catcher In The Rye or the psychology of the real Mark Chapman, that feels irrelevant in this format. Mark talks about living, reliving and rewriting the story, and thanks to Summer’s performance of a man with boundless enthusiasm and childlike spirit we almost feel compelled to invest in Mark’s campaign, just as Sunny seems to at certain points. Mark’s cause almost seems justifiable, especially with Sunny linking the celebrity-obsessed culture of the early 80s to the present day. But director Suzann McLean offers several safeguards: at one point Mark calls for his tiny citizens that live in the walls of his world to support his cause, but they refuse to follow his anti-phony campaign.
While the play begins in a rather vague, confusing manner, without a real establishment until the audience are invited to piece the tale together, Mitzi Jones holds the performance together tightly with her two roles of the older and younger Sunny. However, it’s a good thing director McLean places emphasis on character, situation and relationships; I get the feeling there was a technical error at the beginning with the flickering TV screen, proving Pilot Theatre need not always place their faith in new technologies, but in the grip of a fast script and dedicated actors.