Sunday, May 26

Withnail and I – Birmingham Rep

“We want the finest wines available to humanity, we want them here and we want them now!”

You either know this cult film tottering on the brink of its fortieth anniversary or, like me, you’ve remained blissfully unaware of its merits over that period. But as the big 40 approaches perhaps it’s time to acquaint myself with it, doff my cap and say hi. It seems this version, ably helmed by Sean Foley, embellishes and only slightly strays off the beaten path of the film, but this is not a bad thing. In 1987 Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann, both unknowns tottering on the brink of stardom, undertook the roles of two unemployed actors in a tale loosely adapted from the life of writer/director Bruce Robinson. The film found a following which soon coalesced into a cult and has remained so ever since. Doubtlessly there are cosplayers emulating their heroes in secluded farms in the Lake District as we speak. So, knowing little of the film, only what snippets had leaked in my direction since my teens and a quick squint on Wiki – which, to be fair, you can do yourself – I know very little about it. So, what did I encounter…?

Photo: Manuel Harlan

Seems not entirely unlike an upmarket “Bottom” with a couple of dysfunctional drug-addled drunks with appalling social skills struggling with simple everyday tasks like making tea and talking to people. Our heroes are energetically and buoyantly played by Robert Sheehan (Withnail, the drunker and more actory of the pair) and Adonis Siddique (I) whose vocals hit the same notes a little too often but whose physical performances prove themselves endearing. They carry the bulk of the show and immediately have the audience on the side. An audience, it has to be said, who whoop delightedly at every recognised catchphrase and scene. But when Malcom Sinclair arrives as the seedy and effete Uncle Monty the show changes gear. A tonally perfect and measure performance from a veteran who knows exactly where to place his energy, his voice and his feet- great feet!

Alice Power’s fabulous set ingeniously flops and flips and merrily inverts inside out like Withnail’s mind accompanied to various hits of the period.

It seems well in the tradition of trib. theatre where famous films and tv shows are exhumed for those who know them well, but, if so, it’s a fine example with much to recommend it. It’s like a fulsome, fun and frolicsome evening out with your favourite and witty alcoholic.

“Don’t threaten me with a dead fish!”

Playing until 25th May, https://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on/withnail-and-i/

Reviewer: Peter Kinnock

Reviewed: 14th May 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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