British cult comedy Withnail And I is set to be adapted for the stage by creator Bruce Robinson.
The play will have its world premiere at the Birmingham Rep in May, directed by Sean Foley, who described the 1987 film as “part of the furniture of British comedy” and said “if it wasn’t so funny, it would be tragic”.
Speaking to The Guardian, Robinson said that the prospect of the stage production was “most bizarre” for him, coming almost half a lifetime since he made the film. “I’ve written so many other scripts but I may as well have not bothered with any except this one,” he added, “because it’s the only one that seems to have any traction in my life.”
Withnail And I gave early roles to Richard E Grant as the alcoholic Withnail and Paul McGann as “I”, the melancholic narrator. The film follows the pair as they go on holiday “by mistake” to the Lake District and endure an increasingly disastrous time.
The screenplay was adapted from Robinson’s novel of the same name, which was based on his experiences as an out of work actor.
“I was sitting there with four quid a week National Assistance in Camden Town,” he said. “It was just so devastatingly awful, life then. It was a question of: do I want to cry my eyes out at the situation I’m in or is it so ridiculous I may as well laugh at it? That’s why I sat down and wrote the novel. I never thought it would go anywhere.”
Elsewhere, A Mean Girls musical and a play based on Minority Report are among several other forthcoming productions directly inspired by films.
When asked if theatre is relying too heavily on cinema for source material, Foley replied: “It’s like saying to William Shakespeare, ‘Please make up your own stories. We’re not putting these on – you’ve stolen them from other sources.’ That’s my argument.
“Theatre is constantly using source material from other places. It always has done. Over the last 130 odd years we’ve had this new artform called cinema – it’s just another source.”
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