Theatre reviews: Casablanca: The Gin Joint Cut | Dirty Water

An excellent revival of Casablanca: The Gin Joint Cut leaves the audience wondering how such a tiny group of performers could possibly deliver so much, writes Joyce McMillan

Casablanca: The Gin Joint Cut, Perth Theatre ****

Dirty Water, Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow **

It’s brief, it’s beautiful, it’s funny; and although its touch is light, it fairly takes you back to a time when war raged across Europe, and films mattered, in the fight against fascism. The show is writer-director Morag Fullarton’s smash-hit stage version of Casablanca, first seen at A Play, A Pie And A Pint back in 2010; and it remains, as always, elegantly balanced between spoof and tribute, and always driven by love and admiration for Michael Curtiz’s great 1942 film.

Now, Perth Theatre’s new chief executive Chris Glasgow has had the excellent ideaof offering a two-week run of this irresistible show; and it’s hard to imagine a more thoroughly enjoyable night out, for anyone who has ever watched and enjoyed Casablanca, than this latest 75-minute version of the show’s well-travelled Gin Joint Cut, which as the cast tell us, has already been seen in Paris, Barbados, and even Dunoon.

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The storytelling cast this time round include original company member Clare Waugh – more gorgeous than ever in the Ingrid Bergman role of Ilse, despite also playing Nazi commander Major Strasser among others – alongside the excellent Simon Donaldson as the Bogart figure, and multi-talented Kevin Lennon as French chief of police Renault, and Ilse’s heroic anti-Nazi husband Victor Laszlo.

They’re joined, this time round, by chanteuse Jerry Burns and wonderful pianist and musical director Hilary Brooks, who deliver a terrific audience warm-up via a set of gorgeous torch songs, including the film’s theme song As Time Goes By, and a rousing singalong version of La Vie En Rose. And among them, this fine company conjure up the story, and the times, with the kind of flair that has us singing the Marseillaise with gusto, in the famous cafe scene; and leaves us wondering, at the final curtain call, how such a tiny group of performers could possibly deliver so much.

It’s no coincidence that Morag Fullarton won her spurs as a writer and director of popular theatre back in the 1980s, when her Ayrshire-based Borderline Theatre worked together with 7:84 Scotland and Wildcat on a mission to create theatre in, for, and about working class communities across Scotland; and some of the creative results were spectacular.

Casablanca The Gin Joint Cut at Perth TheatreCasablanca The Gin Joint Cut at Perth Theatre
Casablanca The Gin Joint Cut at Perth Theatre

It’s a far cry from those times, though, to a 2020s show like John Stuart’s Dirty Water, which played briefly at the Pavilion in Glasgow over the weekend. A true working-class drama about the lives and dilemmas of a group of contract cleaners working in Glasgow tower blocks, Dirty Water has been around since 2012, touring from Glasgow to the Edinburgh Fringe, and eventually, last year, achieving a limited sitcom release on STV Player.

What’s most striking about it, though – as it takes the stage at the Pavilion, with a cast of ten – is the narrowness of its vision, and its lack of the kind of political and cultural hinterland that traditionally inspired Scottish working-class comedy, from the stand-up of Billy Connolly to shows like The Steamie. Dirty Water is a good-hearted show, thoroughly alive to the frontline misery of a contracted-out world where managers spout cruel business-school jargon that insults their own humanity as well as that of the workers; and John Stuart himself delivers a sympathetic performance as troubled team leader Jock.

When it comes to humour, though, Dirty Water has little to offer in the way of wit and wisdom beyond endless porn-influenced dick jokes, and the kind of language that gets laughs because it’s not often heard in public. For myself, I like a good filthy joke; but if working class theatre is your game, then more vision is needed to keep a show together, in these times of economic crisis, than a wee touch of humanity, and permission to talk dirty.

Casablanca: The Gin Joint cut is at Perth Theatre until 30 March. Dirty Water, run completed.

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