REVIEW: The Rep gloriously injects touch of panto to Withnail and I

For anyone who’s watched the film from 1987, there’s a certain artistic sophistication about Withnail and I that they will never forget. And this first stage adaption, directed by the Birmingham Rep’s outgoing artistic director Sean Foley, gloriously captures it.

Would you like a sausage? Marwood/I (Adonis Siddique) wasn’t keen, but the audience loved the way what might have been outdated, creepy innuendo was still very funny, thanks to the almost Dame-like role of Uncle Monty (Malcolm Sinclair).

Adonis Siddique plays victim Marwood/I, while Malcolm Sinclair dominates as Uncle Monty.

Pantomime? No, not quite, but oh yes, with the inevitable audience anticipation of theatre, there is a clever injection of just a touch of panto throughout such scenes.

For those who don’t know the plot, Withnail (brilliantly portrayed by Robert Sheehan) and Marwood are out of work would-be actors who are also out of booze, so they take a trip to the Lake District for a holiday in Uncle Monty’s cottage.

Now they have booze galore, especially when Uncle Monty turns up with hampers of fresh supplies which include vintage sherry and wine. But his presence is the result of Withnail seeking an excuse to use his cottage by telling him that Marwood is gay and looking for love. Marwood is no such thing, of course, so he then has to evade Uncle Monty’s unwanted amorous advances.

There are more side plots and hints at a changing world: drugs galore, urban redevelopment, class warfare and immigration, to mention just a few.

But the heart of the play is Withnail’s drug-addled drunkenness, with timeless one-liners from Bruce Robinson’s original script bringing huge guffaws and applause from an expectant audience.

Withnail, in a local café: “We want the finest wines available to humanity, we want them here, and we want them now!”

Marwood, realising Withnail has set him up for Uncle Monty: “If you think you’re going to have a weekend’s indulgence up here at his expense, which means him having a weekend’s indulgence up here at my expense, you got another thing coming.”

Uncle Monty: “I mean to have you, boy, even if it must be burglary,” and “There is a certain je ne sais quoi about a firm, young carrot …”.

Big shout outs too for Adam Young as sleezy drug pusher Danny, Morgan Philpott as Jake the Poacher, and Sooz Kempner, who rip-roaringly fronts the live band. Plus extra applause to the inventive stage crew for those slick location changes.

I predict fine national reviews and perhaps even a London run for Withnail and I. But just in case, make sure you book tickets to see it here at The Rep, where it plays until 25 May.

Pictures: Manuel Harlan


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