Casablanca: The Gin Joint Cut
Oran Mor, Glasgow
until July 23
The Lying Kind
Tron Theatre, Glasgow
until July 22
Reviewed by Mark Brown
It is some 13 years since the late, and much-missed, theatremaker and producer David MacLennan established the 1pm theatre programme known as A Play, A Pie And A Pint at Glasgow’s Oran Mor venue. Over that time MacLennan’s brainchild has become a veritable legend in its own lunchtime, creating more than 400 miniature dramas, many of which have gone on to have considerable success in other places.
Few have achieved quite the level of acclaim of Casablanca: The Gin Joint Cut, writer/director Morag Fullarton’s affectionate spoof of the great 1942 movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Since it premiered at the Oran Mor in 2011, the show- in which the excellent trio of Gavin Mitchell, Jimmy Chisholm and Clare Waugh play no fewer than 12 characters from the film – has been showered with plaudits, both at the Edinburgh Fringe and in Paris, where it played the famous Theatre Dejazet.
Fullarton’s production works because it manages to be both a beautifully-wrought farce and a faithful homage to Michael Curtiz’s movie. Gavin Mitchell is tremendous as Rick Blaine, the debonair American who fled Paris to escape both the Nazis and a broken heart. His representation of Bogart combines lovely impersonation with hilariously deliberate overplaying, all the better to lampoon Bogey’s self-conscious, matinee idol posing.
Waugh cuts rapidly, expertly and implausibly between the romantic female lead Ilsa Lund (the Bergman role) and the vicious Nazi Strasser, among others. Chisholm has even more costume changes, playing five parts, including those of French police chief Captain Renault (he of the well-greased palms) and heroic Resistance leader Victor Laszlo; the scene in which he plays both Renault and Laszlo in rapid turn is an uproarious comic delight.
Praise is also due to designer Imogen Toner Grant, stage manager Sooz Glen and choreographer Marianne McIvor. Without their combined work, the show (which plays extremely humorously with the miniaturisation of the set and the abbreviation of the story) simply couldn’t achieve its outrageously fast pace and its near perfect sense of timing.
Remarkably, notwithstanding its cutting of the movie’s narrative to around an hour, and despite its very funny playing with the conventions of farce, the production still manages to do real justice to the story. The audience leaves the theatre not only thoroughly entertained and (in the famous Marseillaise scene) actively engaged, but also well acquainted with the film’s tale of espionage, anti-fascism and a strained love triangle.
The most notable departure from the original lunchtime version of the show is the addition of a short, nicely sung opening set of 1940s numbers (including Casablanca’s signature song As Time Goes By) by chanteuse Jerry Burns. This is combined with some lovely comedy, as the actors prepare their costumes and try to get Burns off the stage.
However, the lengthening of the show does have the unintended drawback of reminding the bum-numbed, sardine-crammed audience just how uncomfortable the Oran Mor’s creaking chairs have become.
Not that this affected patrons’ abundant enjoyment of the production. I haven’t heard a Scottish crowd cheer this loudly since Iceland beat England 2-1 in last year’s European nations football tournament.
By contrast, The Lying Kind, by celebrated Scottish playwright Anthony Neilson, is a dark farce with a far less consistent comic hit rate and a weaker grasp of its chosen form. Originally performed, as an alternative Christmas show for adults, at the Royal Court theatre in London in 2002, the play unfolds from the increasingly disastrous efforts of hapless cops Gobbel and Blunt to impart very bad news to an old couple late on Christmas Eve.
Neilson’s best known work, The Wonderful World Of Dissocia (a drama, from 2004, that reflects the wild and colourful imagination of a young woman with a dissociative disorder), is characterised to a considerable degree by its brilliant, highly original comedy. The Lying Kind is a much more conventional piece, however.
The cops are a fairly straightforward double act, compared by theatre critic Michael Billington to Laurel and Hardy, and by actors Michael Dylan and Martin McCormick (who play Gobbel and Blunt here) to Father Dougal and Father Ted, respectively. There’s nothing wrong with the idiot/straight man formula, if only Neilson was giving his characters consistently funny material.
As it is, neither the satire (provided, to a large degree, by crazed paedophile hunter Gronya) nor the slapstick (think the Carry On films by way of Viz comic) are funny enough, often enough; and one’s credulity is stretched to breaking point by growling caricature Gronya’s ability to threaten, intimidate and disregard two officers of the law.
As modern farces go, The Lying Kind lacks the density, pace and cohesion of, to take a recent example, Enda Walsh’s brilliant The Walworth Farce. Some of Neilson’s jokes (such as a riff on Blunt’s disastrously short marriage) raise a smirk, rather than a laugh, while others (such as the blundering policemen’s need to hide the evidence of their screw ups) are just too obvious.
The production does boast a universally fine cast, with typically strong performances from the likes of Dylan, McCormick, Anne Lacey (old lady Garson) and Peter Kelly (her husband Balthasar). Nevertheless, the play is not the finest two hours of either Neilson or director Andy Arnold.
Tron audiences had the right to expect better when they learned that Christmas was coming early to their theatre.
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on July 16, 2017
© Mark Brown