Review: LIAM WITHNAIL: CHRONIC BOOM, Soho Theatre

A comedy show about big issues

By: Apr. 15, 2024
Review: LIAM WITHNAIL: CHRONIC BOOM, Soho Theatre
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Review: LIAM WITHNAIL: CHRONIC BOOM, Soho Theatre

“I didn’t want to write a show about poo. It has been forced upon me”

Liam Withnail: Chronic Boom begins with a video, in which Withnail is recording a podcast episode with Christopher Macarthur-Boyd, a fellow comedian and friend. Before they can get into a conversation, however, Withnail receives a call from the hospital, telling him that he needs to go in overnight. This meant dropping everything and going, including missing a big gig on a cruise ship. The audience is then joining Withnail during his time at the hospital as he hopes for things to go back to normal as quickly as possible.

Once on stage, the first few minutes of the show involve Withnail introducing us to a range of different bowel-related diseases, calling Crohn’s Disease the “Ed SHeeran of bowl diseases” and making fun of people with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) versus bowel diseases. Withnail tells us that he has ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease in which one has too much inner lining within their stomach, causing ulcers and leading to a range of issues including diarrhoea, abdominal pain and an immediate urgency to use the toilet. When taking a CRP, a blood test for inflammation, the average person gets a result of between five and ten. Withnail’s result? 84.

Withnail takes the audience through each day he spends in the hospital, ranging from a day in which Macarthur-Boyd brought him some video games, another in which he describes how he rehearsed what to say when giving his stool samples to the nurse in a cardboard bowl and one that focuses on being on a low-fibre diet in the hospital that was hilariously similar to what his dog gets when he has stomach issues.

Each scene ends with a blackout as Withnail attempts to get some sleep, and every “morning” we are greeted with the same spiel from the nurse - Good morning, Liam. It’s time for your observations! Good boy . . .” This style of scene change is smart as it really helps emphasise the monotony and repetitiveness of staying in a hospital, allowing the audience to feel for Withnail a bit more. 

Along with stories from the hospital, Withnail also tells us a bit about his personal life. We hear about his wife’s love for white noise when falling asleep, which Withnail hilariously compares to “Donald Duck being fisted” (he personally prefers listening to podcasts to sleep), as well as his experience with the Inflammatory Bowel Disease App.

While the show isn’t very political, there is a moment in which Withnail acknowledges that nurses should be paid more, leading to a great bit about unionising the army and strikes. Without going into too many spoilers, as it truly must be heard to be believed, Withnail tells one final tale involving a doctor’s appointment and a flight that has an insane amount of twists and turns that will have you both gasping in surprise and laughing out loud. 

The ending of Liam Withnail: Chronic Boom is bittersweet, as Withnail acknowledges that there is no way to happily end a show about a chronic disease that will continue to affect him for the rest of his life. He will most likely be back in the hospital again with his ulcerative colitis, which leads him to start asking questions over his future, choking up at the thought of having to get a stoma after surgery.

Liam Withnail: Chronic Boom is, just like the shows Withnail loves, a comedy show about big issues, one that makes the audience think as well as laugh. I end this review with the same advice that Withnail gives the audience - if there is someone you know that is in a hospital, reach out. It will truly make their day better. 

Liam Withnail: Chronic Boom ran from 8 to 10 April at Soho Theatre. Withnail will be touring the show around the UK until mid-May.



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