Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Withnail & I

Adapted by Ian Winterton from the Bruce Robinson film
Shred productions/Lass O' Gowrie
Lass Fest at the Lass O' Gowrie, Charles Street
21 January 2013 to 23 January 2013

On the face of it, adapting Bruce Robinson’s classic 1987 film of drinking, debauchery, dirt and would-be buggery to the stage sounds like an enterprise as doomed to failure as the wastrel Withnail’s notorious attempts to elicit fine wines from the prim proprietors of a Penrith tea-rooms. But writer Ian Winterton and director Trevor MacFarlane (whose Sherica won a Manchester Theatre Award last year) have done a fine job of, ahem, distilling both the comic and more poignant aspects of the tale – and the fact that it’s actually enacted in a pub, as part of the enterprising LassFest, doesn’t hurt either.

For those, may I say shamefully, unfamiliar with the film, it concerns two young out-of-work actors, Withnail (played here with pell-mell aplomb by Adam Grayson) and the unnamed “I” (Philip Barwood, sympathetic and funny in the less showy part), dismally failing to make ends meet in a dingy Camden bedsit at the end of the Sixties. Under the influence of too many drugs, not enough booze and absolutely no money, they decide that a short holiday in the Lake District would be a good idea. 

Actually, it’s a disastrous mistake, even by their own lamentable standards. Alarming conditions inside and outside their borrowed “shack”, disgruntled, heavily armed locals and Withnail’s perilously confrontational attitude are just the half of their problems. Then Withnail’s theatrically-inclined Uncle Monty (David Slack) arrives, under the impression that he’s in luck with the luckless “I”, who is not best pleased at this development.

This is all very funny and peppered with endlessly quotable one-liners. If that were all there were to it, then that might well be enough. But Winterton has not only been commendably bold with his adaptation, to the extent of incorporating some of the famously witty stage directions into the spoken text, but has also revealed the heart beneath the banter. Slack brings an unsuspected poignancy to his portrayal of Monty, and the two lead characters actually seem to have a real life beyond the cartoonish outrages.

At the performance I saw there were some issues with timing and with the promenade style, but these can be easily addressed. You may not have a chance to squeeze into one of the remaining performances at the Lass O’ Gowrie, but I’d be very surprised if this hugely entertaining show doesn’t have a life beyond its run there.

*LassFest continues at the Lass O’ Gowrie, 36 Charles Street, Manchester, M1 7DB, until February 2nd, with shows including:  Off To Do A Killing (Thursday 24th), The Ballad Of Halo Jones (January 27th), V For Vendetta (January 27th) and I’m Frank Morgan (from January 30th). The previously advertised Suspended In Space and Blade Runner have been postponed. For more details and ticket information please visit www.thelass.co.uk and www.lassfest.co.uk

 

Reviewer: Kevin Bourke