Friday, January 25, 2013

Withnail And I

Philip Barwood ("I") and Adam Grayson ("Withnail"). Photo by Debbie Manley

The Lass O'Gowrie, Manchester (ended 23rd Jan 2013)

Written by Bruce Robinson. Adapted by Ian Winterton.
Directed by Trevor MacFarlane

One of the biggest cult movies around gets an absolutely wonderful stage adaptation in a promenade performance at The Lass O’Gowrie pub. Writer/Director Bruce Robinson’s low budget 1986 film told the tale of two struggling alcohol and drug-fuelled actors who go on holiday ‘by mistake’ to the Lake district, and gave Richard E Grant the role of his life. Such an iconic part is something of a poisoned chalice for any actor, but Adam Grayson pulls it off brilliantly with a performance of great intelligence, pathos and wit. Philip Barwood partners him beautifully as the more understated and gentler ‘I’, and the chemistry between them is electric. Using the entire space of the pub, the audience were guided around by the enigmatic and charming  ‘Presuming Ed’ (Gabriel Paul ) who wordlessly ushered everybody from one scene to another. David Slack gave us a wonderfully theatrical Uncle Monty, with a constant twinkle in his eye and an air of wistfulness as he reminisced endlessly about a colourful past involving a great variety of athletic young men. Eryl Lloyd Parry excelled as a crusty old poacher (complete with a real catfish down his trousers), a curmudgeonly cake shop proprietor, and a nasty bigoted drunk with a hatred of ‘perfumed ponces’.  Ian Winterton adapts Robinson’s much-lauded screenplay with confidence; wisely choosing not to reinterpret classic scenes and dialogue too much. For fans of the film, every beloved character has their moment in the spotlight – the versatile Steve Cain brought the house down with his no-nonsense copper instructing a drunken Withnail to “get in the back of the van!”, a surly cafe cook delivering a soggy fried egg sandwich with the air of a man whose kitchen hygiene routine is probably close to non-existent, and a farmer recovering from the amorous attentions of his prize bull. Cain’s delivery and timing is excellent, with every character played with great subtlety for maximum comic effect. The female characters were all played by Annie Wallace, beginning with the dishevelled cafe customer biting into her fried egg sandwich after carefully surveying it with the cold pitiless eyes of a jungle cat. Her frosty, hyper suspicious farmer’s wife was another beautifully judged comic cameo, and the mousey Miss Blennerhassett was a hoot – treading on eggshells while serving tea and cake to Penrith’s visiting scum. As with the character of Withnail, Danny the drug dealer was another career-making film performance for an actor (Ralph Brown), and could easily have been parodied on stage by a less skilled performer than Dickie Patterson. Sauntering around like a sheepskin-coated apparition, Patterson dispensed his chemically enhanced wisdom like a bobble-hatted, sunglasses-wearing tranquilised meerkat. The sozzled, racist ex army innkeeper was played to perfection by Richard Salis, and after spending almost the entire play herding the audience around, Gabriel Paul’s disturbingly charismatic Presuming Ed eventually made an appearance towards the end. A special mention must go to Paul Phillips who supplied a dazzling variety of sound effects, expertly creating a superbly atmospheric tonal landscape (with a suitably 60s musical selection that complimented the onstage action perfectly). And last but not least we had a live chicken who almost managed to steal her one scene from literally under the noses of her co-stars.

A perfect ensemble cast created a feast of memorable characters, but it is Adam Grayson’s majestic and immortal Withnail that shone the brightest of all. His delivery of Hamlet’s soliloquy ‘What A Piece Of Work Is A Man’ was rousing, spine-tingling, and gut-wrenching. Director Trevor MacFarlane has accomplished something very special indeed, coaxing pitch perfect performances from every member of his cast, and delivering a production that deserves to be seen much further afield than the Manchester Fringe.

One cannot praise this production highly enough, proving that in the right hands a classic movie that has indelibly imprinted itself upon the psyches of millions of fanatical devotees can find new life on the stage. True 3D, in fact.

Tags: Withnail And I, Bruce Robinson, Ian Winterton, Trevor McFarlane, Lass O’Gowrie, Adam Grayson, Philip Barwood, Steve Cain, Dickie Patterson, Annie Wallace, David Slack, Richard Sails, Gabriel Paul, Eryl Lloyd Parry, Manchester, Paul Phillips

Friday, January 04, 2013


Taurus Bar, Manchester

Written by Harry Kershaw

Joan Kempson (as Hilda Ogden) with Ian Curley (as Eddie Yeats).

Directed by Colin Connor and David MacCready


Rating: 5 stars


“This is our Chaucer; these are our people” announced producer Gareth Kavanagh in his introduction to this special preview of ‘Coronation Street 1977 Live’ at Taurus Bar (the actual run of the production is at The Lass O’Gowrie pub). As part of this year’s Midwinter Lass Fest, and following on from last year’s critically-acclaimed ‘Coronation Street 1968 Live’, this is another slice of the golden years of the ever-popular ITV soap. BAFTA award-winning casting director June West has assembled a remarkable team to bring to life some of the most iconic television characters ever created, and the result is pure Lancastrian magic. The production has been designed to be presented in promenade fashion in the actual bar area of The Lass O’Gowrie pub (where the audience will be standing and following the action happening around them), but for this preview we remained seated. Following the tv script, the action features a multitude of short scenes much in the way that the very early episodes would have been transmitted live. In fact, the whole half hour experience (tonight’s preview was a single episode; the run at The Lass will feature two) gave one the vivid impression of how it must have felt to be in the actual studio during a transmission.

Rovers Return landlady, Annie Walker (a splendidly aloof Christine Barton-Brown) has taken delivery of an impressive monogrammed carpet from local scouse layabout Eddie Yeats (Ian Curley, delightfully mischievous), and relishes the opportunity to impress her staff and friends with it. Unfortunately for the forever upwardly mobile Mrs Walker, local gossip merchant Hilda Ogden (an hilarious Joan Kempson) has gotten wind of where Eddie has obtained the carpet. The premise and set up are simple, but the execution is sublime. Writer Kershaw’s script is sharp, tight, and breathes dynamic life into every single character and situation. The comparison with modern day Coronation Street is startling, with careful consideration given to the minutest of detail and the wealth of humour and pathos inherent in the most basic of domestic activities. Kimberley Hart-Simpson is a firecracker Bet Lynch with her machine gun delivery of wicked one-liners, more than ably supported by Mike Woodhead’s brow beaten barman Fred Gee. Amidst the generally light-hearted goings-on, Jeni Howarth-Williams’ faded siren Elsie Tanner wafts in and out of scenes like a lost soul, doomed to roam the cobbled streets looking for love among the ruins. There’s a classic daggers drawn face-off between Elsie and Rita Fairclough (Amy Searles) over a pair of laddered tights, with a hapless Len Fairclough (Jimmy Allen) finding himself between a solid rock and a very hard place indeed. Once again, Kershaw’s writing gives us warm-hearted banter with some disturbingly dark undertones as the vulnerable Rita has to face her husband’s old flame (and there’s clearly a few embers still smouldering there). Matt Lanigan and Kathryn Worthington are another winning double act as would-be lovers Alf Roberts and Renee Bradshaw; a scene with Alf trying to sort Renee’s accounts out while hovering too close for comfort echoes the romantic and sensual pottery scene in the film ‘Ghost’. Denice Hope gives us a magnificent Betty Turpin, her face conveying a million and one different emotions in a millisecond; she forms yet another fabulous double act with Barton-Brown’s artfully condescending Annie Walker. John Draycott’s Stan Ogden, and David Crowley’s Ray Langton have less stand-out moments but register just as strongly.

Gareth Kavanagh is absolutely correct; this is our Chaucer. These are our people. This is our language.


Runs until Monday 7th January