I’m still a little bereft thinking about Kazablanca, even though it’s taken yonks to get round to writing about. It was, after all, improv company Impropriety’s final ever show in the Kazimier venue before it shuts at the end of the year. And see the place off in style they surely did, with an evening of their trademark silliness that most certainly came from the heart.
It’s been more than a mere stage for them, as over the years their annual marathon improvathons provided something really unique in Liverpool’s cultural calendar. Behind the scenes, the company is close too, and it showed in this one-night only farewell to the Kaz.
So for Kazablanca, some performers reprised characters from former shows (Ian Hayles in drag as ‘Cleo Laine’, Pete Cliff bringing back his quite unforgettable German accent, both from the 2013 Wild West themed improvathon, if I remember correctly); others split into a mix of French, German and English factions to set up a vague Casablanca meets ‘Allo ‘Allo-style romp. Intrigue, romance, double-crossing, songs, peril and general bawdiness were all crammed into the usual nutty mix. Newcomer Jak Malone (hooray!) held his own as master of disguise Danny Dorito, alongside veterans like Angie Waller (as Judy Dench), Trev Fleming (as Winston Churchill), Helen Foster (French resistance fighter, Cilla Vie) and Paul Robinson (Inspector Jean-Paul George-Ringo; also French).
In addition to the nonsense there was a poignancy too, with reference made to world events and, bien sur, the corporate interests that are seeing off the Kazimier as they saw off neighbouring Mello Mello. In a final scene so perfect it’s hard to believe it was completely-off-the-hoof, the cast began an ensemble song that referenced all the themes of their major shows, until a fade to black upon mention of their first, a 2008 tribute to Ken Campbell called Oh… Wait. Well done, whoever thought of that – Impropriety’s make-em-ups had come full circle to a quite stunning effect.
There has been something incredibly special about spending time at the Kazimier in the company of Impropriety over the years. Its black and white Art Deco surrounds were weird, a bit stinky, and designed like a health and safety officer’s nightmare; but it was, undeniably, home. Not only did such an unusual space allowed them to pull off shows lasting more than thirty hours at a stretch – where, if anywhere, will be able to adopt that kind of production in future? – it has allowed for a creative collaboration like no other that has been a real joy to observe, serving an arguably underrated art form that, while always hilarious, has moments of substance and strength that quietly surpasses all genres.
People tend to know the Kaz as a music venue but for MADEUP, here’s the deal – it was the first place I discovered Tell Tale Theatre, with their brilliant production of 1984; where Trickster have run riot with Shakespeare; where improvathons have made me cry with laughter and joy all hours of the day and night; where Keddy Sutton and Gill Hardie performed Caz and Britney for the first time; and where I brought my son for his first theatre experience (the improvathon children’s hour – at four months old he didn’t much know what was going on but enjoyed a little chat with a griffin). All in all, unforgettable, wonderful stuff thrived there. Its creativity and vitality, and the sheer inspiration the place proved to be for so many, will be loved and remembered forever.
With that in mind; as the Impropriety show wound up, even the usually unflappable Ian Hayles showed his soft side with a concluding allegory about how Kazablanca will live on in their hearts (“I know it’s trite!”, he broke the fourth wall to clarify with a panto sneer). But as the cast took their final bows there was barely a dry eye. The end of an era, indeed.
Photo credit: JoNa