Monday December 2, Old Timers
Withnail and I, directed by Aidan Cheng, was a lively yet thoroughly convincing ensemble performance, with a cast finely in tune with one another’s comic eccentricities. Based on Bruce Robinson’s semi-autobiographical tale of late-1960s, substance-induced woe, the performance was a lesson in farce and wit, which still captured wonderfully the sporadic moodiness of the original.
The play follows the trials and further trials of the eponymous unemployed and alcoholic actors who, having been living in London squalor, decide that a reinvigorating sojourn in the country is the remedy for their miseries. Their holiday takes a somewhat downward plunge however, as the predatory Uncle Monty, a threatening local poacher and the two’s deep-set internal issues provide the spanners in the works.
Having never been to the venue before, I was a little taken aback when, upon entering the upstairs room of Old Timers, I found that the stage itself was simply a section of the pub floor, vacated of furniture. I had for some reason anticipated something a little more professional. As I took my seat, pint still in hand, I had a sinking feeling that I may be in for a night of the spectacularly amateur, a theatrical open-mike contest of sorts.
To say that I was pleasantly surprised would be the greatest of understatements. Philistine that I am, I had given no thought to the genius that was behind the decision to stage Withnail and I in Old Timers. The boozey overtones of the piece felt in their natural environment, and the bar’s surprisingly versatile lighting enabled the rapid setting of urban and rural, indoor and outdoor scenes. Additionally, the intimacy of the venue allowed for the intelligent directorial choice to make some passages interactive, with the relatively small audience occasionally involved in the characters’ banter.
From I/Marwood’s first line, my memory of the film was completely re-awakened, with the character brought alive by Daniel Heathcote’s anxious fretting. This embodiment of queasy angst was complemented superbly by the demanding, narcissistic Withnail, played by Jake Francis. Whilst these two alone could have carried the show, the man of the hour was evident as soon as Callum Wragg-Smith emerged from the wings in the role of the flamboyant Uncle Monty. He creatively managed the hilarious yet mournful aspects of the character, carefully toeing the line of the nostalgic old thesp, without falling into the overly-camp realms of the pantomime dame. That Wragg-Smith shined should not deduct from the fact that this was a stellar performance from the entire cast throughout. All in all a brilliant take on the cult classic. To the director, production team and actors I say ‘Bravo!’
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