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Withnail and I | Birmingham Rep

If there’s one thing that the Birmingham Rep theatre knows how to do, it’s how to create an atmosphere! The auditorium was buzzing with excitement, and as the lights dimmed and the live band (built of the brilliant ensemble members; Morgan Philpott, Matt Devitt, Adam Sopp, and stunning vocals by Sooz Kempner) struck their first cord, applause and cheers erupted from huge fans and unknowing audience members alike. Opening with live music from the band, we are soon seamlessly plunged into Camden 1969 and the destitute life of Withnail and I.

Here we first meet the titular characters as both are greeted with cheers upon their first entrance. ‘I’ (aka Marwood) played by Adonis Siddique appears first, contemplative and calm, hunting for more from his life. While the entrance of ‘Withnail’ played by Robert Sheehan is wildly eccentric in comparison. And so begins the story of two friends, living the struggling life of out of work actors, signing on weekly, avoiding the rent man, finding solace in drugs and alcohol, where their only visitor is their sleazy drug dealer, Danny (played by the superb Adam Young) and their only outing, a trip to the local. Upon deciding the pair need a holiday away from the poor state of their acting careers, they head to the country where they stay in Withnail’s uncles - the infamous Uncle Monty’s (played note perfect by Malcolm Sinclair) holiday cottage.

This is a pacy play with a lot to cover in a short length of time. While some areas felt a tad rushed, on the whole the cast kept a good pace, keeping us all on our toes as to what’s next. Sheehan and Siddique played excellently off each other, providing apposing energies while showing a sense of history together. Sheehan's energy was none faltering, he managed to fizz and float at the same time, allowing us to buy completely that he was always intoxicated in some form. While, though Marwood did have moments of anxious chaos himself, Siddique’s calmer and occasionally more naive energy was the perfect counterbalance. Another huge mention has to go to Malcom Sinclair, who played the flamboyant and wealthy Uncle Monty. His comedy timing was impeccable, never missing a beat, awarding him a much deserved round of applause on his final exit.

In order to allow the pair to travel from place to place, the design team had their work cut out. But with the use of extremely clever projections (lighting design by Jessica Hung Han Yun) and sets (set and costume design by Alice Power), this was achieved seamlessly and was hugely effective. The attention to detail on set was second to none, and the famous car scenes were done to perfection; it almost felt like you were watching it live on screen. In homage to the film, the costumes are kept as close to the original design as possible, as the costume designer for the film (Andrea Galer) made Withnail's flowing Harris Tweed coat that appears on stage.  

Through the relationship of the ex-Etonian, deeply cynical slumrat, Withnail, and writer, dreamer and local grammar school boy, Marwood, we are taken on a hilarious yet tragic journey celebrating the end of an extremely transitional period in British History. Told through utterly vile insults, snide asides and memorable one-liners, what might sound like a drama, is an expertly well timed, comedy, delivered by a fantastic cast. Withnail and I runs at the Birmingham Rep until 25th May - for more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.  

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (5*)

Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Manuel Harlan


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