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Casablanca - The Stage Version

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, the Victorian
Bar in Glasgow's Tron Theatre is more atmospheric than most. Which
should lend itself perfectly for its forthcoming transformation into
Rick's Bar for post-show drinks following performances of Morag
Fullarton's stage adaptation of Casablanca in the main house. Even
before the bar's forthcoming make-over, sitting alone at a table on a
wet Wednesday afternoon waiting for a woman you'ver never met before
and without so much as a piano player to set an extra layer of
melancholy, one can't help but feel like you're already part of the
movie.

When Fullarton arrives straight from rehearsals, however, we're
returned in an instant to the Glasgow where this most singular of
writer/directors cut her theatrical teeth before moving into
television, working on dramas such as This Life, Taggart and Rebus. At
the moment, however, it's her three actor version of one of the most
iconic films ever made that concerns her.

“I love it!” Fullarton gushes from the off about the movie that paired
Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in wartime Morocco for one of the
greatest unfulfilled onscreen romances in celluloid history. “It's got
tremendous heart, and there's fascinating comnination of a huge moral
dilemma and a great love story.”

Casablanca also has some of the most familiar lines ever misquoted,
from Bergman's 'Play it, Sam' line that leads to the club pianist
playing As Time Goes By, to Bogart's final 'This could be the start of
a beautiful friendship'.

“I knew the first time I saw it that I'd seen something special,” says
Fullarton. “Films like that aren't made anymore today, where it's all
about action films asnd so forth, but there's nothing quite like
Casablanca.”

The idea for putting Fullarton's favourite film onstage came from
Classic Cuts, Oran Mor's A Play, A Pie and A Pint offshoot of
slimmed-down Shakespeares and other more epically realised works from
ther canon. Fullarton suggested to producer David MacLennan that a
treatment of a classic film was equally as valid, and duly set to work.
The result when it first appeared as what Fullarton styles as the
lunchtime cut of the show was a rip-roaring success, duly being lauded
with a five star review on these pages. More homage than pastiche,
Fullarton's new gin joint cut of her play now comes with her script
pretty much untouched, but with a real life B movie shown before the
main feature.

“We're not trying to stage the movie,” she's quick to point out. “We're
doing a piece of theatre, so the way I approached it was to try and
make a great theatrical event. So part of what happened was that I took
what I thought were the best bits of the film and cut out quite a lot.
You have to be careful that you don't fillet it too much or throw the
baby out with the bathwater, but part of the fun of the staging for the
audience is seeing the actors play all the parts, and it seems to work.
But you have to be careful when you're dealing with something that's so
cinematic, because you're working in a different medium.”

For a piece of work that necessitates the appearance of the mass army
of the Third Reich, this is probably just as well. Fullarton's
first-hand experience of one medium being transferred to another
without adapting to its new form is in fact responsible for her own
leap from stage to screen.

“My first experience of putting something onscreen was a televised
version of my stage production of Mistero Buffo for BBC 2,” she recalls
of her production of Dario Fo's play starring Robbie Coltrane, “and I
was so deeply disappointed with how they televised it I decided to
learn how to do it myself. You can't just point a camera at a stage and
hope for the best. So by the same token I'm very aware that I'm not
putting a film onstage. I'm turning this into a theatre show, with all
the craft and the magic that will work for an audience. That's what we
have fun with, the things you can do onstage that you can't do on film.”

While the publicity material for Casablanca describes it as
'disrespectful', Fullarton is at pains to point out that her take on it
is not a spoof or a pastiche.

“It's affectionate,” she says, “but it's respectful in that I've gone
for the best lines. I think sometimes there's a snobbery with some
people who say that movie scripts can't possibly compare with theatre
scripts, which is something I don't entirely agree with. I think
there's some great writing in film, and I think there's some terrific
moments in the writing to be enjoyed in Casablanca. So from that point
of view, yes, it's respectful to the script. The disrespectful thing
comes in other ways, and I think you'd have to have a very very thin
skin to get upset by some of the devices we've used to make it work
with three actors playing all the parts. So it's more we're taking
license with it than being disrespectful per se.”

This isn't the first time Casablanca will have been seen onstage. Long
before Fullarton's lunchtime and gin joint versions, the 1942 film
itself was based on Everybody Comes To Rick's, by Murray Burnett and
Joan Alison, who sold their script to Warner Brothers in 1942 for
20,000 dollars after failing to find a Broadway producer. While much of
the play remained intact in the script for Casablanca, including the
use of the song As Time Goes By, Everybody Comes To Rick's has only
seen one high profile production. That was in 1991, when former East
Enders bad boy Leslie Grantham played Rick.

“Apparently the original play was dreadful,” says Fullerton, only
knowing the play by reputation.

The film itself features several writers credits, and, while a slow
burner on its initial release, has since acquired an iconic status that
might well cause Casablanca's acolytes to be protective.

“People were coming up to me and saying, 'That's my favourite film, I
hope you're not going to fuck it up'”, Fullarton lets slip. “But then
they'd come and see it, and I don't think anyone thought we'd done
something terrible to the film. I can say that because we've already
done it, and one of the reasons we're doing it asgain is because people
were fighting to get in to see it. But I also think we're reinventing
it for a different kind of audience. One of the reasons I wanted to do
this as well was because it's one of my favourite films, but the only
time I ever have to see it on a big screen is occasionally once every
five years or so at the GFT or something. Now wouldn't it be a great to
have the opportunity for all the people who feel the same as me to see
this irrisistable cocktail of a film done in a different way.”

Here's looking at you, kid.

Casablanca: The Gin Joint Cut, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, July 7th-23rd;
Pleasance, Edinburgh, August 3rd-29th
www.tron.co.uk
www.pleasance.co.uk

The Herald, July 5th 2011

ends

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