Casablanca: The Gin Joint Cut comes to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with a strong pedigree and reputation, built on its debut as part of Glasgow’s Òran Mór’s iconic A Play, A Pie and A Pint and its subsequent success at the Tron Theatre and elsewhere in Scotland. As a result, few other Fringe shows this year will have such a lavishly detailed (albeit still small) set, nor such an accomplished trio of actors who each bring the right level of humour and seriousness to this classic story of lost and rekindled love.
Set within the framework of a small theatrical company presenting an adaptation of the iconic film, this is part-homage, part all-out spoof, but possibly done with slightly more love than the West End’s re-imagining of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps. So, following some initial banter between the performers — with Clare Waugh clearly desperate to get out by impressing a big agent rumoured to be in that evening’s performance — it’s on with the show. Casablanca, 1941: Nazi Germany has overrun most of Europe. Rick (performed with an impeccable impersonation by Gavin Mitchell) runs a café bar that welcomes any and every lost soul — from petty criminals to refugees and anti-Nazi rebels looking for safe passage out of Europe to America. The latest in the latter camp is the escaped resistance leader Victor Laszlo, and his wife Ilsa, Rick’s ex-lover in Paris from just before the city fell to the Nazis.
While Mitchell plays Rick throughout, the other main characters are shared by Waugh and a necessarily light-footed Jimmy Chisholm — with chaotic-looking costume changes only heightening the fun. The frustrations of working within such limitations are ably expressed through a host of physical and verbal comic flourishes — never overplayed — including a few digs at the smoking ban which so distinguishes modern Scotland from the golden age of Hollywood.
At only one hour, the show necessarily edits the film down, but it keeps the story’s emotional keystones intact and the audience is left with no doubt that the whole enterprise is done with real love and affection for the original. Clearly, everyone involved believes this is a story worth retelling. So, to misquote the film: Play it again, Sam.