RE: VIEWING | CASABLANCA
As we turn into Caroline Street next to The Troxy, I feel the immediate trepidation I’m meant to. Moroccan police are shaking people down and asking for their papers; actors deep in their roles delighting the period-dressed crowd. Fittingly, I’m dramatically uncomfortable as I’ve never been a ‘joiner’ and will be bewildered in the extreme if one of these people starts acting at me. Fortunately, we’ve skipped on the dress code so hopefully this will state our position. My wife feels uncomfortable to be the odd one out but we just didn’t have any 40s clothes lying around.
We queue in the backstreet for a while, as guests are grabbed by the actors and forced against walls to be searched and interrogated. I avoid eye contact and scribble these notes down, desperate not to have to communicate with these police. This extravagant roleplay confuses members of the public as they pass, though I doubt this is the strangest thing they’ve seen down the backstreets of these parts. We elude the attention of the guards and make it to the entrance, where I’m thankfully greeted by a real person with whom I can state my true credentials.
Entering through the back door gets the desired effect. Dark candlelit corridors open to the grandeur of the theatre and the contrast is stunning. The setting is pretty spectacular, The Troxy being a fine old Art Deco theatre partially restored to its former glory. The set dressing for tonight’s event fits the place perfectly, augmented by the patrons in 40s wear and actors and dancers dedicated to their roles. The façade fades when we get to the bar and there’s a selection of awful drink served in plastic cups or bottles. I’m pretty sure Rick’s didn’t serve Heineken. We settle on a cup of horrible red wine and take a tour of the impressive venue.
The back of the theatre houses food, drink and gambling, with stage in constant use as the band keeps things jumping whilst ‘Sam’ plays and dancers swing. There’s actors everywhere and constant narrative breaking out. Guards chase people down, a drunken whore staggers and Nazis throw salutes. I have a loose idea what the film is about though I’ve never seen it, so as everyone plays their part and acts out key points of the plot I’m entertained but lost. And this shitty wine takes the shine off of everything apart from my lips.
Double Chivas is the only option as it’s cheaper than the cocktails, which didn’t quite leap off the menu and into my mouth. We also pick up some hot salted popcorn and take a table on the balcony. The popcorn is delicious and nicely fits the cinema experience. Watching the entertainment unfold from on high, and warmed by the Scotch, we settle that this is a fine way to spend an evening, despite having to sip strong drink from a plastic cup, which I deeply resent.
A host keeps things moving and the narrative keeps building and we’re constantly reminded that the bars and restaurant are open. As the stage is cleared and a screen descends I notice that the real security for the place are wearing fezes too. The tone of the thing is broken as an extended trailer for the Shawshank Redemption Secret Cinema event is screened before the feature. It looks like a savage time. I hope they don’t go too far with that one, a cavity search is nobody’s idea of a good night out.
As the film plays it turns out we’re sat next to a pair of arseholes on a first date who exchanges banalities like they’re in a chain restaurant rather than a cinema. The whole row is filled with cuddled couples in booths and it seems we made the right choice of seating, other than sitting next to people with no self-awareness. It takes them a full twenty minutes for them to stop their noise. There’s only so much predictable date jabber I can take, these people are lucky that the booze is expensive and I’m sober enough not to tell them that their dry personalities are well suited and that they should just fuck now and throw themselves off the balcony in a perfect romantic gesture.
The movie is new to me, in that I’ve never watched it, not that I’m unaware of it. There are very few films so culturally ubiquitous as Casablanca and as this charming, amusing picture unfolds, I recognise the parts acted out in the theatre tonight and I hear all of the lines constantly quoted and reappropriated. I finally understand the draw of the thing and why it’s become a classic. It seems stupid to point out that this a great film so I won’t, but I’m definitely happy to have finally witnessed it and couldn’t think of a better setting in which to do so. If I take away anything from this evening, it’s that I now how some context for the oft-quoted, iconic lines from the film. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Photography: Laura Little, Hanson Leatherby, Gabor Scott, Eftihia Stefanidi