UGARTE: But think of all the poor devils who can't meet Renault's price. I get it for them for half. Is that so parasitic?
RICK: I don't mind a parasite. I object to a cut rate one.
The above, straight out of the shooting script, comes about a quarter way into Morag Fullerton's contextualised, semi-send up stage version of the Bogey and Bergmann classic. On the surface, this is a fine comic show, played with tremendous energy by the local (i.e. all Scots) cast, and featuring a superb Bogart-as-Rick impression by Gavin Mitchell.
But reliving such killer lines got this reviewer thinking: can you - should you - claim authorship of something, the form and dramatic thrust of which are largely not your own? Is this merely the all-embracing apology for cultural retreads that is postmodernism, or should we be more upfront about it, lest it be called parasitical piggybacking? Why have your own gripping plot and sizzling dialogue, when you can borrow some of the best ever, rebox it as "homage", and watch the punters roll in?
The show plays sleight of hand with its own low budgets, presenting not Casablanca, but a comic play about a chronically under-resourced troupe attempting to stage the wartime noir classic. Three players, one set, props on wheels and but a single swastika between them. So, the need for quick changes becomes part of the comedy, weaving laughs into otherwise straight-played recreations of scenes from the movie. Rick's faithful piano player Sam is represented, uncomfortably to these eyes, by a voiced-over figurine that looks suspiciously like a golliwog caricature.
Occasionally, Casablanca character is broken to share a bit of movie-related trivia with the audience, to no great effect, other than perhaps to show that the writer will not be imprisoned by concentration camps of internal logic. Eventually, Ilsa and Victor fly to freedom, and we get a routine from Singin' In The Rain for an encore.
Weaving in and out of another narrative is of course not new. In form and content the Gin Joint Cut was stylistically reminiscent of Hamish McColl and Sean Foley's The Play What I Wrote. That tribute to Morecambe and Wise incorporated homage, send up, farce, and the play-within-the-play - all of which are seen on stage in Edinburgh.
Speaking of where, in 1966 the Fringe also hosted the debut of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, in which our heroes wander an absurd universe beyond their ken, unaware that they are but minor characters in a larger drama (Hamlet) taking place offstage. Scenes from Shakespeare's tragedy are judiciously woven into Stoppard's script, as the benighted, Godot-esque courtiers fail to avoid or even understand their fate. And of course Hamlet itself, like many of the Bard's works, also contains the play-within-a-play.
So there is nothing new under the sun. But the memorable words and drama from the Gin Joint Cut, if not the laughs, were all from the movie, not the pastiche. Scenes from the film count for the vast majority of the 1-hour running time. Perhaps a co-credit is due, at least?
(Having said that, 70s prog rock gods ELP prefigured Spinal Tap for egos that went up to 11, when they unblushingly gave themselves joint writing credits with some dead Russian dude called Mussorgsky on their gatefold classic, er, Pictures At An Exhibition.)
Borrowing, referencing, paying tribute by homage and pastiche, using insight from one work of art to create further art and deeper insight: all good. But at some point might it become cultural venture capitalism: adding little of one's own, mortgaging against the rich asset of the original, yet still claiming ownership?
Having seen (and largely enjoyed) the problems of three little people in wartime North Africa being revisited in damp August Edinburgh, nonetheless some distraction was required - something truly original from a unique creative voice. Eventually it came down to a toss up between Super 8 and Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam...
Casablanca - The Gin Joint Cut
Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 9 - 29 August