Pros: Pacy thriller uses simple but effective tactics to create a cinematic experience.
Cons: A bit tedious in parts, but the climax rescues it.
Christopher Adams brings his take on London’s chemsex culture to the vaults beneath Waterloo station. When protagonist Anthony (Ciaran Ownes) discovers that his one-night stand has been found dead on Hampstead Heath, he rejects the idea that the young man is just another casualty of the culture’s terrifying, drug-infused underbelly. Anthony suspects something more sinister is afoot, and spends the next hour-and-a-bit sprinting across London (in a non-suspect trench and trilby combo), ingesting his body weight in mephedrone and GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) along the way to try and solve the murders before the killer claims the next victim.
The energetic and at times hilarious Anthony takes centre stage, and is joined by Ian Hallard and Tom Rhys Harries, successfully portraying every other character in the play, including (but not limited to) a pair of chemsex Maitre D’s, an awkward and slightly homophobic landlord, and a female Scottish dog walker – each one with masterful skill.
The ‘queer noir’ premise is fantastic – and the cast’s frantic but controlled performance captures the delirium, paranoia, and confusion of both the plot and its setting; the dialogue enhances this paranoia. Segments and motifs are repeated throughout the narrative, mirroring Anthony’s increasingly frantic internal dialogue (although this does become slightly grating towards the close). Some of the more tense sections are pulled off professionally; actors with less authority might have made these scenes come across as cheesy.
The costumes are lacklustre – polyester short shorts and a Primark shirt for Hallard and Harries – but hair and makeup ensures that all three are superbly preened, with not a hair out of place or a single blemish visible. Their doll-like complexion adds a sense of hyper-realism to bolster the surreal performance.
Inventive use of props turns the everyday into a cinematic experience. With just a couple of tables on rollers, a few pairs of scissors, a mobile phone and a smoke machine, the cast and crew transport us to grimy squats, misty heaths and the darkest recesses of Anthony’s mind.
There are a few moments which could do with some polish as they jump on each other’s lines, and there are perhaps a few underdeveloped characterisations. Family estrangement is touched on at points, and it would have been nice to see a bit more. The play underwhelms on its promise of being ‘chilling’, but that does not detract from its overall sharpness.
Playwright: Christopher Adams
Director: Matt Steinberg
Producer: Joanne L. Williams
Booking Until: 28 January
Box Office: 07598 676 202
Booking Link: https://vaultfestival.com/whats-on/tumulus/