"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where it's set and what the characters' lousy childhoods were like ...", to misquote the opening lines of J D Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Richard Hurford's imaginative speculation on the hours "Before Chapman Shot Lennon", as his new play, Catcher is subtitled, takes place in a Sheraton hotel bedroom in New York. Of the two characters, an unnamed prostitute (let's call her Sunny) and Mark Chapman, we know only about Chapman's dysfunctional background. The girl he called up the night before he shot John Lennon has never revealed her identity.
Basing his one-act drama on Chapman, and his obsession with Salinger's fictional protagonist, Holden Caulfield, Hurford has created a gripping study of the muddled interior of Chapman's mind and the startled reactions of the girl in the skimpy green dress. At first seemingly reasonable in his desire merely to talk, Chapman gradually loses his composure, revealing the dark, haunted and confused qualities that drove his ambition to wipe out all the world's "phonies".
Chapman is given an earnest, bespectacled credibility in Ronan Summers's portrayal, catching Chapman's vacillating moods – fanaticism, vulnerability, aggression. The excellent Mitzi Jones is imagined as both the prostitute's older, now respectable self, and as the blithe, gullible young girl enthralled then horrified by Chapman's plans.
When, clutching his copy of Double Fantasy, Chapman leaves the room to re-enact his own double fantasy – getting Lennon to sign the LP sleeve then later firing five bullets at the Beatle outside the Dakota building – he hoped to promote the story of the boy who would be the catcher in the rye. It worked, as does this cunningly devised, taut little thriller.
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