Casablanca; The Gin Joint Cut – Perth Theatre

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

Writer & Director: Morag Fullarton

With discussions surrounding the waning patience of audiences and their commitment to a night at the theatre often dependant on finance, something like Perth Theatre’s Casablanca, The Gin Joint Cut can soothe every itch audiences may have. Doing so with aplomb and heartfelt performances as this seventy-minute touch of sophisticated farce provides endless hilarity, enjoyment, and even a soupcon of historical and contemporary insight.

To achieve so much more than a lengthy, often drawn-out adaptation, is a talent deserving of praise. Writer-director Morag Fullarton’s ‘Gin Joint Cut’ of Michael Curitz’s legendary Casablanca is a smashing example of how shifting from a fifty-minute A Play, A Pie, and a Pint piece is meant to be done. It, like the gorgeously decorated Theatre this evening, is a piece of elegance and refinement – even amidst the dodgy accents, quick changes, abridged lines, and yes, even a Velcro swastika.

There are certain performances which can never be topped: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; Philip Quast and Colm Wilkinson; Kermit and Miss Piggy; but above them all – Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. So rather than best them, this affectionate comedy does the next best thing and offers a ribbing tribute to the infamous pair (and some terrific fast-paced characterisation of the rest of the cast).

Framed as a narrative in which a trio of performers take on the abridged film with the hope of appealing to some casting directors, the central lines and actions follow the narrative of the 1942 film in the way one might expect a parody piece to do so – though Fullarton’s has a touch more respect and adoration within it than any lampooning satire. Occasionally the humour could be pushed a little harder – but what the show may lose in potential belly laughter, it excuses by allowing a wider net of appeal. Fullarton’s comedy is judged and side-steps the more expectant slapstick and farce, almost downplaying it from going too hammy or over the top – though that won’t stop Kevin Lennon, Clare Waugh, or Simon Donaldson from trying.

From Lennon’s break-neck switches from playing Captain Renault to Victor Laszlo (now with voice weight rivalling Alec Guinness) to Waugh’s marvellous spin on Bergman’s Ilsa to a Gestapo Major Heinrich Strasser pulled right from an eighty’s sitcom, the casting here is top-notch. As is Donaldson, chiefly playing Bogart’s Rick while also offering nods back to the meta ‘actor playing an actor’ notion of the story, an element returned to occasionally as Lennon and Waugh step out of character to offer up background information to the film’s production and the historical context of those fleeing war-torn Europe in touching, powerful punctures, including the emigration of the Hungarian actor Peter Lorre.

And it’s not tricky for the cast to remain in character, as the Perth Theatre stage whisks the crowd away to Morocco as Martha Steed’s design co-ordination (elevated from Jonathan Scott & Gemma Patchett’s original design work) brings the audience right into Rick’s Café (complete with ironing board) – this time with a touch more colour and neon than the film could provide thanks to Francois Langton’s lighting design.

But before the audience even meets this trio who bring so much gusto to the entire shindig, the room is warmed and encouraged by chanteuse Jerry Burns and the magnificent tinkling of the keys by pianist and musical director Hilary Brooks, located just off-stage but in front of the audience (even sitting with us upon the quieter moments). Burns’ magnificently effortless vocals draw the audience in with ease, delivered in such a passionate manner that from the film’s theme number,As Time Goes By, we’ve already been transported to a time when war raged across Europe – and it was the voices on our screens and stages which spoke with more authority than those from the political podiums. Funny that.

And by the time this Scottish audience maintains that Auld Alliance with a rousing chorus ofLa Marseillaise – sung in French(ish) – there’s a sense thatCasablanca, The Gin Joint Cut, with tongue firmly rooted in cheek, really is a superbly impressive piece, and one of the most enjoyable experiences audiences can have in Scotland at this moment.

Runs until March 30th, 2024

Tongue Firmly In Cheek

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