Published on February 24, 2014 | by Dorothy Spencer0
Last chance to see: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
★★★★★Currently being played in the tunnels of Waterloo is a charmingly apt ramshackle production of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the 1970s cult book by Hunter S. Thompson.
Running as part of the Vault Festival, the show takes the audience on a madcap road trip through ‘bat land’ in the pursuit of a monstrous American dream, and sees the gonzo journalist Raoul Duke and his sexually-depraved Samoan attorney, Dr Gonzo, attempt to cover a desert race in Nevada. They have to infiltrate a drugs convention whilst indulging in a heady spectrum of downers, uppers, hallucinogens…the whole goddamn spectrum.
Considering the idea of filming a novel of such imaginative girth seemed optimistic, the staging of it seems absurd, and it does take a few leaps of imaginative faith to fully realise its potential.
With a fairly simple set design, the narrative is pulled together by projections onto the back wall – moving illustrations by legendary British illustrator Ralph Steadman – and a host of sound effects. They’re pretty resourceful with the space; in a particularly nightmarish bath scene, we see a butt-naked Dr Gonzo wheeled out in a fully equipped tub, as the smell of soapsuds fills the air.
Taking on a role formerly mastered by Johnny Depp in the 1998 movie adaption is a challenge, and for me it will always be Depp. However, away from my personal bias, Ed Hughes takes a pretty good shot, getting the physicality spot on with birdlike, erratic gestures.
The ensemble cast members do a convincing turn as contorted lizards, although one of them has a tendency to drop out of American drawl and back into the neutral tones of a drama student.
Recorded passages of the novel play over speakers throughout the performance, giving you a chance to appreciate the genius of Thompson’s writing. The engaging presence of a second, older Duke played by John Chancer – rounder, wiser and just a little too straight to be believable – interjects his action to offer hindsight and clarity away from the drug-addled madness of the present day man.
This allows for deeper analysis and a chance to express some of the more pertinent points made by Thompson, but also steals from the essential essence of chaos at the heart of one of gonzo’s finest, wildest works.
The disorienting projections of Vietnam and the devilish face of President Nixon add absurdity and benevolence to an otherwise upbeat production, reflecting the souring mood as the love and optimism of the ’60s transformed into the rather more sinister ’70s.
Adapted and directed by Lou Stein, a lifelong friend of Thompson, this is perhaps the truest, most loyal realisation of Thompson’s seminal work you’ll ever have the opportunity to see.
Fear and Loathing runs until March 8.