IT IS one of the great works of American literature, a hit film and a touring theatre production.

It also gave us the famous saying "Catch 22."

This play goes some way to explaining what it means.

In a nutshell, if you pardon the pun, people who think they are mad can't be mad because they can rationalise between being mad and not being mad.

Well, that's one way of looking at it.

Joseph Heller's novel based on his World War Two exploits when he himself had been a B-52 bomber pilot screams from the page.

On stage, the drama also demands your attention from start to finish - erratic behaviour becomes the norm as you cope (that's the word) with people with double and triple standards.

This could be about 2014 - as certain characters personify greed, compassion, capitalism and, thankfully, the saving grace - a sense of humour.

Set in the closing months of WW2 in Italy, a bombardier named Capt John Yossarian is desperate to be sent home after endless, mind- and soul-destroying bombing missions.

Yossarian cannot understand why people he doesn't even know want to kill him.

A huge B5-2 bomber dominates designer Jon Bausor's magnificent, iron-walled hangar set.

And director Rachel Chavkin keeps the pace frantic and furious.

Dialogue is wild and very funny and also poignantly reflective.

The nine-strong cast are electrifying with Philip Ardutti- deserving a medal for his performance asYossarian - including some brief nudity when he climbs up a tree for some thought-provoking moments.

David Webber as manic Major Major (so two-faced and so well-named) and Christopher Price as the aptly-tagged Milo Mindbender both fresh out characters that are borderline lunatic asylum cases.

The music is used beautifully with September Song oozing in the background and a Jitterbug dance sequence was reminiscent of the musical Pennies From Heaven.

Indeed, other moments reminded me of the classic series M#A#S#H.

But this look at under pressure pilots, dubious doctors, flighty nurses, weary civilians and black marketeers all dealing in a world gone mad is much darker.

At times this satire about war has you shaking your head - then laughing: tragedy and humour making for uncomfortable allies.

The Northern Stage production is three hours 15 minutes long- and inevitably certain scenes could be discharged without affecting the play.

But what do you leave in and what do you leave out? A Catch 22.

The work is one of the American greats and I went home to read the book all over again.

The message of this classic is still ingrained on me: "He was going to live forever or die in the attempt."

And director Rachel adds in her programme notes "The laughter and pain stems from these imperfect creatures trying to win the war in their own way."

Globe Verdict: 8/10 - Plane crazy

Liverpool Playhouse until May 31.

For tickets telephone 0151 709 4776.