Don’t Mention Casablanca

Court One, Christchurch

18/09/2010 - 09/10/2010

Production Details


DON’T MENTION CASABLANCA is playwright Michelanne Forster’s powerful true story of the explosive love affair between her Jewish grandmother and her famous grandfather Michael Curtiz, the director of Casablanca and many other Hollywood classics.

Making its world debut on The Court Theatre’s stage on 18 September [delayed one week because of the earthquake], DON’T MENTION CASABLANCA reveals a journey of love, determination and sacrifice as it follows Forster’s grandmother Thilde and her son to Curtiz from Vienna to Hollywood, as the shadow of Hitler falls across Europe.

Mihaly Kertesz left Europe in 1926 having made 70 films. Once in Hollywood, working for Warner Brothers as Michael Curtiz, he made an additional 101 films, including the Oscar winning Casablanca. Thilde Foerster, a screenwriter in her own right, battled with Curtiz across continents and going to extraordinary lengths to gain child support for her son by him. 

“My father only gave me his blessing to write DON’T MENTION CASABLANCA after I convinced him the story about his mother was an heroic one,” says Forster. “Without taking the risks she did, Thilde, her brother Ludwig and my father could have ended up in a gas chamber like 70,000 other Viennese Jews. Kertesz may have won Oscars but my grandmother kept the family alive.”

Artistic Director of The Court Theatre Ross Gumbley is proud that The Court is presenting the world première of Forster’s “best work yet”. Gumbley says, “An early version of DON’T MENTION CASABLANCA was presented as a rehearsed reading in The Forge last year, and it was clear from the quality of the work and the audience response that we had to put on this play. It has been an honour bringing this work to life on the stage.”

Lara Macgregor plays Thilde, who “goes from being an unconventional and rebellious girl with conservative Jewish parents to an unmarried mother striving to secure a future for her family. She is a remarkably complex woman who makes choices of incredible bravery.”

Paul McLaughlin plays Curtiz, who has found “the mix of humour (Curtiz was known for his bombastic outbursts and mangling of English sayings) and intense flaws a brilliant character to play.”

“DON’T MENTION CASABLANCA has fulfilled a dream of mine to pay homage to my grandmother, my father and our collective past,” says Forster, “I believe familial love with all its imperfections must be cherished."

Venue: Court One, The Court Theatre, Christchurch
Production Dates: 18 September – 9 October 2010
Performances: 6pm Monday / Thursday; 7:30pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (no show Sundays). 
2pm matinee Saturday 18 September
Tickets: Adults $45, Senior Citizens $38, Tertiary Students $26, School Children $15, Group discount (20+) $36, Matinee $29 (18 September only)
Bookings: The Court Theatre, 20 Worcester Boulevard; 963 0870 or 

Thilde Foerster: Lara Macgregor 
Ludwig Foerster: Jono Martin 
Michi Foerster: Jake Metzger 
Michael Foerster: Steven Ray 
Mihaly Kertesz: Paul McLaughlin 
Pola Negri: Sandra Rasmussen 
Jack Warner: Tim Bartlett 
Teresa Dallabona: Georgia-Kate Heard 

Production team:
Set design: Tony Geddes 
Costume design: Elizabeth Whiting 
Lighting and sound design: Brendan Albrey 
Composer: Luke DiSomma 
Stage manager: Anna Dodgshun 
Production manager: Peter McInnes 
Props: Nicki Evans 
Workshop: Nigel Kerr 
Operator: Rob Henderson 

Sentiment and substance with stylish production elements

Review by Lindsay Clark 21st Sep 2010

Shaping real life events for that other life on the stage adds another level of skill and sensitivity to the business of the playwright. For Michelanne Forster it seems to be a natural way of seeing the past and her new work, based on her own family history, is a further example of her careful fabulation.

The essential story celebrates the courage and tenacity of Forster’s Jewish grandmother, Thilde Foerster, whose relationship with successful film director Mihaly Kertesz in 1920s Vienna sets her life course. As he goes on to become Warner’s star director in the thirties, culminating in his 1943 Oscar for Casablanca, she struggles to maintain a career as a scriptwriter, raises their illegitimate son, manages to extricate herself, son and brother from increasingly dark days in Europe and in spite of ongoing rejection, to secure support for the boy and respect for herself. 

Like many memory replays the threads are sometimes tangled, but Ross Gumbley’s direction keeps a firm hold on the human story that matters more in this case than the Holocaust or for that matter the glamour of Hollywood. There are nineteen locations in the space of the play and necessarily many minor doubled roles to fill them out, but we are never out of sight of the main focus for long. 

Even so, the first half was in danger of losing impetus for me at something over one hour and twenty minutes. If there is a reservation about the play, framed on such a strong story, it would lie with the peripheral scenes. 

After interval the play generates more direct appeal. Some strong scenes build emotional tension: Thilde meets the American wife who is set on protecting her own ‘family’ with Curtiz; that implacable man is brought face-to-face with the son he has discounted for so long; Thilde and Kurtiz sum up their attitudes to life …

The play thus moves a long way, both chronologically and in terms of location. The steadfast Thilde shows the same determination and fortitude at the end as she did as a girl, insisting that she could be a writer. In the end her story is the one that matters most.

The set, from Tony Geddes, allows the memories to flow freely, echoing the debris of lives lived on the move through an eloquent array of bits and pieces, strung from the lighting rig, so that a clear functional space could be worked below. Costumes from Elizabeth Whiting, lighting and sound from Brendan Albrey and a score from Luke Di Somma all add significantly to the depicted world of the play. 

As always the making or the breaking of the spell rests with the cast.

The narrator is the son, Michael Foerster, now middle aged and reflective. Steven Ray, assuming this persona among other roles, is immediately sympathetic.

As the key driver Thilde, Lara Macgregor is a forceful figure, a match for the self proclaimed ‘bastard’ Mihaly Kertesz, played with energetic commitment by Paul Mc Laughlin.

Jonathan Martin (as Thilde’s brother, Ludwig) and Jake Metzger (a thoroughly convincing young Michael Foerster) fill out the immediate circle. Their world is amplified by Sandra Rasmussen (an indelible Pola Negri),Tim Bartlett (movie mogul Warner incarnate) and Georgia-Kate Heard (glamour and song personified). 

All in all, the play offers both sentiment and substance, with stylish production elements for added enjoyment. The strongest component for me would be an amazing story, reminding us that things not mentioned are often the key to memory’s richest store.
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Triumphant return to normality at Court

Review by Alan Scott 21st Sep 2010

It is a mad, mad world, I have to say. A fortnight ago, while shaking inside my weatherboard castle, I seemed, for 40 seconds or more, to be staring into the face of hell. 

On Saturday night, inside the majestic stone of the Court Theatre, it felt like I was basking in the warm glow of heaven, such was the excellence of this play and of this production, and such is the contradictory nature of human experience. 

I take my battered hat off to the Court. While the rest of us have been living on our jangled nerves, the whole team there has rebuilt a production and returned us all flawlessly to normality. 

Don’t Mention Casablanca is the story of playwright Michelanne Forster’s grandmother, Thilde, as seen through the eyes of her father, Michael. It is told in a long series of short scenes, each one detailing a key element in a complex narrative. 

They all add up to an interesting and absorbing tale that has you hooked right to the end, a testament both to the strength of Thilda’s character and the potently theatrical quality of Forster’s writing. 

I wish I had more words so I could describe each actor’s contribution. Suffice it to say, they were all at the top of their game. Yet, mention must be made of fifteen year old, Jake Metzger, who, as the young Michael, amazingly matched the seasoned professionals every inch of the way. 

As for the rest; well, there was a great set, terrific costumes, lovely musical score but, to be honest, I don’t feel any need to analyse this production. I just loved the whole thing, full stop. What else can I say?

[Republished courtesy of The Press
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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