Withnail and I at Birmingham Rep – ‘I stayed away from rehearsals,’ says author | Theatre | Entertainment | EUROtoday

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Withnail and I stars Paul McGann and Richard E Grant

Original Withnail and I stars Paul McGann and Richard E Grant (Image: Arrow Films)

It can be truthful to say Bruce Robinson’s relationship with the primary movie he directed has had its ups and downs during the last 4 many years. Having as soon as referred to Withnail & I as being “stuck to me like a colostomy bag”, the 78-year-old author and director is outwardly on higher phrases right now with what has lengthy been considered maybe the funniest and positively most quotable British movie ever made.

If you’ve ever heard a bunch of males loudly declaring, “We want the finest wines available to humanity” or “We’ve gone on holiday by mistake”, then you definately have been most likely listening to a number of the notoriously obsessive followers of the 1987 movie that propelled Richard E Grant to film stardom and stays the best cinematic depiction of the gradual loss of life of the hippie goals of the Sixties.

“I wasn’t fond of the idea of staging it,” admits Robinson, in regards to the first ever theatre adaption of Withnail, which not too long ago opened on the Birmingham Rep. “I’d done it, you know; it’s decades ago and it’s over… I just wanted to move on.

“But a while back, a lovely geezer called George Ward wanted to buy the stage rights. He is a very generous man and coughed up a good chunk of dough. So I’ve written the script but I am not the director.

“I’ve deliberately stayed away from rehearsals. I’d only bring a ball and chain as I would be looking to do what I did before.”

Adonis Siddique and Robert Sheehan as Withnail and I

Adonis Siddique and Robert Sheehan as Marwood and Withnail in stage adaptation (Image: Manuel Harlan)

For the uninitiated who stay perplexed in regards to the cult of Withnail, the plot of the movie is straightforward to narrate.

Two down-and-out actors (Withnail, performed by Grant and “I”, Paul McGann, whose title is rarely referred to through the movie however is now recognized to be Marwood) reside in a toxically decrepit flat in Camden Town and drowning themselves in drink and medicines within the early autumn of 1969.

Offered the keys to a cottage within the Lake District by Withnail’s upper-class, flamboyant and lascivious Uncle Monty (performed, unforgettably, by the late Richard Griffiths), the pair discover their vacation house is much more squalid than their London dwellings.

More trauma ensues as Uncle Monty unexpectedly arrives with predatory designs on the younger Marwood.

After numerous howlingly humorous misadventures, and shockingly unhealthy language, the movie ends with Marwood leaving London for a job in a Manchester rep theatre whereas Withnail is left alone to slip ever additional down life’s slippery slope. The credit roll after his vituperative studying of Hamlet’s “what piece of worth is a man” soliloquy to a bunch of disinterested wolves at London Zoo.

Yet the micro-scale of the movie’s narrative (and its equally parsimonious finances) belies the legacy of Withnail. Robinson has directed solely three movies since then, most latterly the adaption of Hunter S Thompson’s novel The Rum Diary. Starring Johnny Depp, it was the Hollywood star’s adoration of Withnail that led to Robinson returning to the director’s chair, a place that he admits to by no means being actually snug with.

“I remember when the film [Withnail] was at the cutting stage, saying to my wife, ‘Oh God, I hope we can get two weeks at the Gate Cinema in Notting Hill’,” recalled Robinson in an interview in 1994.

“To my amazement I took it to New York to preview it and – I’d always thought it was funny – but the audience were standing up to laugh. I couldn’t believe it. And it played there in New York to packed houses for seven months. It’s only since it transferred to video that it has built its cult status.”

The newest stage manufacturing is directed by Sean Foley, and stars Irish actor Robert Sheehan as Withnail, Adonis Siddique as “I” and Malcolm Sinclair enjoying Uncle Monty.

Yet, simply as fascinating to devotees of Withnail are the recollections Bruce has relating to the state of affairs he was in when he wrote the unique script again within the winter of 1970.

“I was living in Camden Town in a road called Albert Street off the Parkway,” Robinson recalled. “The house that we shot in was very much based on that house. I was living there for about four or five years.

“When we all came out of drama school in 1967, one of our friends had a lot more money than the rest of us and bought the house for himself and slowly we all moved in. Eventually, all the more affluent ones moved out, leaving just me and this friend of mine, Vivian MacKerrell.”

MacKerrell, who died aged simply 50 from throat most cancers in 1995, was the person with whom Robinson shared his darkest hours, and whose turbulent persona morphed into that of Withnail. They have been so poor they possessed just one lightbulb – screwing it into the becoming of no matter room of the home they entered.

Robinson managed to show this frankly miserable existence right into a script whereas MacKerrell drank lighter fluid (an act famously recreated by Richard E Grant within the movie, although the can was full of vinegar) and demolished complete partitions of the home with a hammer and a synthetic leg.

“We were on the brink of despair… no money, no work, living on £11 National Assistance,” recalled Robinson. “But I used to live with an actress who was doing very well in those days, Lesley-Anne Down, and she had bought this old Jaguar which was the same one used in the film.”

Withnail and I film director and writer Bruce Robinso

Withnail and I movie director and author Bruce Robinson on set in 1986 (Image: Getty)

Without MacKerrell, however with one other younger actor buddy of his referred to as Michael Feast, Bruce determined, simply as Grant and McGann’s characters do within the movie, to get out of London to regenerate within the nation.

“We’d [Feast and myself] found this ad in The Times for an idyllic cottage for £8 a week. We drove up to this cottage in the Lake District and it really was a f****** barn,” recollects Robinson. “Rain was pouring in through the roof in a bucket and we couldn’t believe what had happened. We had no fuel or food and it was horrible – we couldn’t wait to get out.”

The Uncle Monty character was impressed by the late Franco Zeffirelli, the Italian director who forged a younger Robinson as Benvolio in his 1968 film adaption of Romeo and Juliet. “He was genuinely appalling, sadistic to me,” mentioned Robinson, six many years later.

“It’s a cliché, isn’t it, the casting couch, but that didn’t come from nowhere. I think powerful film directors would kind of de rigueur take the girls to bed.

“But it’s an iniquitous thing to do; actors are so vulner­able, anyway. When I was a young actor, it wasn’t uncommon at all to get hit on by, in my case, homosexual directors expecting you to play the game.”

The filming of Withnail & I used to be beset by issues, together with one consultant of the manufacturing firm, HandMade Films, arriving on set demanding that the script be altered and that the lighting be much less sepulchral.

Robinson threatened to stroll until he might make the movie the best way he wished. He acquired his want, probably to the pleasure of George Harrison, who had based the corporate to be able to finance and launch Monty Python’s Life Of Brian movie in 1978.

On the movie’s cinematic launch within the UK, critics have been broadly supportive, with The Times appropriately paraphrasing Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade Of Pale – featured within the movie’s memorable opening sequence within the type of a saxophone cowl by virtuoso King Curtis – to explain it as depicting a “sordid shade of pale”.

But it was the VHS and DVD releases within the Nineties and Noughties that triggered Withnail’s evolution into one of many greatest sleeper hits of all time. Grossing round £1million internationally on the time of its first screening, Withnail went on to make 50 occasions that a lot over the subsequent three many years.

Richard E Grant would work with Robinson once more on How To Get Ahead In Advertising in 1989 earlier than discovering Hollywood success with films similar to Bram Stoker’s Dracula and LA Story. McGann has since appeared because the eighth Time Lord in Doctor Who in addition to taking small-screen roles in Luther and Holby City, earlier than not too long ago narrating the profitable podcast documentary collection Real Dictators.

As for Robinson, he’s now quick closing in on 80, but nonetheless possesses the fireplace and conviction that enabled him to finish Withnail. He could have authorised the brand new theatre adaptation, even going as far as so as to add just a few new traces to the script.

But, to the frustration of myriad Withnail fanatics, the possibilities of a film sequel are, and can stay, completely out of the query for Robinson.

“If I did a sequel you’d be totally setting yourself up to be kicked in the b******s,” concludes Robinson.

“People would just say I was cashing in, when incidentally, I never got a bloody penny out of Withnail & I. I sold the script to HandMade Films for a quid. I got paid for directing. No, I would never want to get back into Withnail & I.”

Withnail & I is on on the Birmingham Rep till May 25. For extra data and bookings, go to birmingham-rep.co.uk