Pros: A boisterous and wacky production with some great physical comedy. It conjures up an era of mind-expansion and shattered ideals.
Cons: The action felt a bit ‘stop/start’ in places due to the narration element but the explanation was necessary to keep the audience informed.
The Vaults in the Waterloo Tunnels are a rabbit warren of a venue, tucked away under the train lines but easy to find with the directions on the website. They are currently hosting the six-week-long VAULT festival and there’s a wide range of things going on, so do check it out.
I was intrigued to see how Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could be produced on stage. A journalist and his lawyer cohort drive to Vegas to report on a biker’s race in the desert. The luggage in the trunk of their rented convertible consists of “two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half-full of cocaine and a whole galaxy of multicoloured uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… A quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser [and] a pint of raw ether”. Obviously they never manage to file an article about the race but instead we follow their drug-induced adventures as they get side-tracked trying to find the American dream.
Lauded as a seminal piece of literature, capturing the drugged-up zeitgeist of the early 70s, it was successfully translated into a movie. Moving it to a stage performance removes the support of cinematic special effects which are pretty useful for illustrating drug trips.
Raoul Duke, the lead protagonist, was played by two actors – a young version (Ed Hughes) on stage and an older version (John Chancer) narrating from the side stage. Without the narrated explanation much would have been lost on any audience members who weren’t familiar with the novel or film. The downside was that during some tracts of narration the action on stage was frozen which made things feel a bit fractured.
Rob Crouch brought Dr Gonzo scarily to life. His bath scene was a highlight of the evening and his knife brandishing made me laugh and worry at the same time. To say more would spoil the reveal.
The drug-induced hallucinations were handled wonderfully by the supporting cast who did a great job of shape-shifting into lizards – a joy to behold. Libby Northedge especially stood out with her talent for physical comedy.
The stage was dominated by the presence of a convertible car which itself looked as though it had also been partaking of the pharmaceuticals. Later it cleverly converted into a hotel bed which was less convincing but served the purpose.
On the whole the production didn’t let the novel down but it remains a tricky beast to convert to stage.
The venue went all out to theme the evening with special cocktails and a taco stand. The audience are encouraged to dress for the occasion and quite a few had embraced the 70s vibe or at least donned a Hawaiian shirt which all added to the fun.
Hunter S Thompson is inextricably linked with the artist Ralph Steadman who provided the crazy illustrations for much of his written work. An additional nice touch for the evening was that a gallery of his prints was also on site.
Based on the novel by: Hunter S Thompson
Adapted and directed by: Lou Stein
Producer: The Heritage Arts Company and Lou Stein Associates
Booking Until: 8th March 2014