Casablanca, 1941 – a place to which those fleeing the Nazi regime flock, where human life is cheap and refugees are a leading commodity.
Or rather, the set for the re-creation of the classic Hollywood movie on the stage. There seems to be only one small problem. There are only three slightly down-at-heel actors to play the twenty-two speaking parts and hundreds of extras. The trio are pushed and pulled in all ways and have to resort to every trick in the book to make their shoestring budget extend to one of the greatest movies of all time.
Gavin Mitchell plays an actor playing Humphrey Bogart playing cynical bar owner Rick – willing to stick his neck out for nobody and neutral on all things, including women. Or he is until the only woman he ever loved walks in to this, of all the gin joints in all the world. Clare Waugh is Ingrid Bergman being Ilsa Lund (and along the way Nazi Major Strasser). Jimmy Chisholm is her resistance leader husband Victor Laszlo and (often at the same time) the sycophantic Captain Renault – and just about everybody else.
There is no faulting the characterisation or spirited performances of the cast as they pull off the multitude of characters. Both Mitchell’s Bogart and Chisholm’s Peter Lorre (Ugarte) in particular are spot on and the three succeed in making the whole thing look easy.
Full credit also to Morag Fullarton’s fast and furious script, which entertains while cutting through the comic capers to the core of the original - the “three little people” forming a love triangle. Although much silliness of course ensues, there is genuine emotion as the aeroplane engines fire into life and Rick has to decide on his own happiness or the lives that hang in the balance.
The good knockabout fun will make it a popular audience choice, but it’s far from perfect. A waiter in Rick’s café might recommend the Homage as better than the Spoof. At its best, it does justice to the silver screen, miraculously retaining the plot and all the best lines. The quick fire clowning and mugging to camera are engaging enough, but are sometimes overwhelming and the sight-gags are so old that they should be in black and white. There also seem to be the rumps of a couple of sub-plots, possibly from a pre-Fringe version.
It’s said that the script for the play, which would eventually become Casablanca was described as “sophisticated hokum”. The Gin Joint Cut succeeds in the goals of the beleaguered cast of the play within the play of being “ a homage, aye fond kiss, a bow”. Worthy of its four and five star reviews – or one less if you like your gin straight.
Show times: 5-29 August 2011 4.30pm
Ticket prices: £11.00 (£9.50) - £15.00 (£12.00)