PPP: Casablanca, The Gin Joint Cut

May 3 2019 | By More

★★★★★   Played it – again!

Traverse: Tue 30 Apr – Sat 4 May
Review by Thom Dibdin

It is easy to see why the A Play, A Pie and A Pint punters voted the easygoing charm of Casablanca, The Gin Joint Cut as their favourite piece of lunchtime theatre since PPP was founded by the late David MacLennan in 2004.

While remaining disarmingly true to the original film, Morag Fullerton’s script and direction ensure that the three-hander has a life of its own, adding a gloss of comedy to the love affair between Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund, and some strong emotional heft to its setting.

Gavin Mitchell. Pic Leslie Black

There is no particular need for the viewer to be familiar with the original film to get a glorious feeling of satisfaction from the production, either. However, aficionados might just feel that they have got to know the film they love that little bit more intimately.

Fullerton’s solution to creating an homage to Casablanca is to put the performance itself out front, with her three actors first seen in their dressing room preparing for the play itself. It’s a chance to both establish the rules of engagement – smoking on stage is something of an issue – and drop the production into the here and now.

Fortunately the material and the performances themselves are so strong that the presentation quickly disappears in plain site and the invitation to go to Morocco in December 1941, a Free French outpost and stepping off point for those fleeing Nazi Germany, is easily taken up.

Kevin Lennon, who is new to the production, takes over the roles of small time criminal and purveyor of unscrupulously bought transit papers Ugarte, head of the French police Captain Renault, fugitive leader of the French resistance Victor Laszlo and various other bit players.

nuanced and telling

The complex casting means that on occasion he has dialogue with himself. Not a problem for Lennon. He might be taking over the role previously played by the likes of Jimmy Chisholm and Barnaby Powers, but there is enough business – and enough time has elapsed – for him to make the roles his own.

Kevin Lennon, Gavin Mitchell and Clare Waugh. Pic Leslie Black

Gavin Mitchell and Clare Waugh return to the various roles they have been playing in the production since its inception. Time has only served to mature and hone their performances so that they are all the more nuanced and telling than ever. No hint of getting blasé here.

Mitchell brings his considerable skills as a comic to Rick Blaine, world-weary owner of Rick’s Bar. His portrayal of Bogart is superb and, importantly, his eyebrows’ performances are a delight to watch. But there is a humanity there too, as he creates both the actor playing the roles and the roles themselves.

Waugh brings an equally strong set of skills to the stage as Ilsa Lund and, with rather greater scope for comedy, evil Nazi Major Strasser. She makes it all look easy – from gorgeous pout to ferocious scowl, but there is a lot going on here.

Gavin Mitchell and Clare Waugh. Pic Leslie Black

What makes this such a great piece of theatre, however, goes beyond a trio of sparkling, clever performances, some cleverly orchestrated sight gags and lots of references to film noire, is the depth that this gets.

Breaking the fourth wall, on occasion, allows Fullerton to add greatly to the background, reminding that the setting of early WW2 Morocco might be a convenient frame for a love story, but it was also a real time and place – where real people lived and died.

And without being overt about it, there is something just a little timely – maybe unsettlingly so – in a love story set against the rise of a racist and fascist regime.

Running time: One hour and five minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 30 April – Saturday 4 May 2019
Daily at 1pm; Also Fri eve at 7pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Gavin Mitchell and Kevin Lennon. Pic Leslie Black


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