A screenwriter, fresh from another failed pitch of his masterwork, returns to his flat and, in his anger and frustration at his inability to transmit his ideas to the boneheads of Hollywood, begins to act out his screenplay. That, in a nutshell, is Catalpa. For the next hour and ten minutes every cut, every fade, every sound effect and every part – including animals – is performed with frenetic energy by the screenwriter (Joseph Freeman)
Based on a true story of a prison escape in 1876 the screenplay uses poetic licence, owing much to Melville and Conrad, and it’s easy to see why it might perhaps not appeal to the suits with its visions and whales and rigid, moralising hero.
Every inch of the small stage is utilised to tell the story and everything from blanket box and bed to chewing gum is turned in a prop.
Catalpa was originally written and performed by Donal O’Kelly in the 1996, winning a Fringe First in the process, but nineteen years on, even the historical epic nature of the piece doesn’t quite stop this show feeling dated. The view of women in the story is reductive and the mystical visions of mothers comes close to parody. However, there’s possibly a little more awareness of these shortcomings in this performance than in the original.
Even at just over an hour there are moments when this show feels too long, but it rattles along and the frantic almost unhinged energy from Freeman makes it never less than watchable.