Saturday, 20 October 2012

Casablanca: The Gin Joint Cut - review

Written by: Cole (@coleholland09)

The Pleasance, London

Homage is a difficult thing. It easily alienates and too often falls short of the mark, particularly with well-known source material. Scottish company Gilded Balloon has taken a great risk with their high-energy take on the film Casablanca. As the show’s programme states, it is one of the most classic films of all time. As 2012 marks the film’s 70th anniversary, it is no surprise to see the iconic story brought to the stage, and Gilded Balloon do so with a great deal of enthusiasm, though not, unfortunately, absolute success.

The show gets off to a slow start with a series of sketches in the style of a DVD bonus feature. Gavin Mitchell takes to the stage as a cowboy-suited stuntman with a gun twirling routine that continues far beyond funny or impressive. Clare Waugh delivers a monologue as a gossip-rag journalist that (while flawlessly delivered and full of fascinating details of the film’s production) goes on far too long to keep the audience’s interest.
After all this exposition the show finally begins to tell a story. The year is 1941. The place: Casablanca, Morocco, part of unoccupied France. Rick leads a simple life as the proprietor of a bar and gambling den until his long-lost love, Ilsa, arrives in town with her husband, a leader of the resistance hoping to obtain exit visas and escape their Nazi pursuers; and only Rick can help them.

From here the show picks up the pace. The three-piece, multitasking cast brings this story to the stage in a truly bonkers fashion with a madcap retelling in which the leading lady doubles as the Nazi general, and the romantic male also takes a turn as a camel trader. Being utterly unafraid to make a fool of themselves, they spend the full 75-minute performance having what appears to be the time of their lives.

Mitchell’s slightly exaggerated take on Humphrey Bogart, in his portrayal of Rick Blaine, is pure perfection and Waugh is faultless in each of her roles. Of the three, however, the quick-changing Jimmy Chisholm stands out. He exits the stage only to reappear seconds later wearing a different hat and wielding a new accent. Of particular note is a scene in which he arrests himself. Wearing a different jacket on each arm he plays character acrobatics in one of the show’s funniest scenes.
          The show’s ultimate failing is the assumption that the audience will be unfamiliar with the film; every joke and reference is explained or pre-empted. An ashtray piled high with a pyramid of cigarettes is funny because of the alarming amount of cigarettes lit in Casablanca, a statistic that appears in the show’s exposition. If you don’t know Casablanca this aids understanding, but if you do know the film it ruins the gag and gives the audience the uncomfortable feeling of being spoon-fed.

Casablanca: The Gin Joint Cut has all the best intentions and through the merits of a stellar cast it certainly does not waste an evening. It provides plenty of laughs which helps recovery from awkward moments such as the attempt to lead a less than half-full theatre through a rendition of the La Marseillaise in a mockery of one of the film’s most poignant and stirring scenes.

Despite awkward moments and a snail’s pace start it is important to remember that this show is a tribute to the film and it does exactly what a loving homage should. It reminds us that even seventy years after it premiered Casablanca is still being referenced, remembered and honored in many ways - even with slapstick theatre.

This production runs until 20 October 2012. 
@ThePleasance @CasablancaGJC 

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