The ramshackle decadence of the Vault Festival, which sprawls like an abandoned Punchdrunk set through the tunnels under Waterloo, seems the ideal venue for a wild ride into bat country. Lou Stein revives his smash 1981 adaptation of Hunter S Thompson’s classic account of his druggy freakout while on assignment in Sin City, and if it’s a tamer beast than you might expect, it’s still gloriously whacked out – a game of chemical chicken with the heart of the American Dream.
Ed Hughes’s birdlike Raoul Duke is an avatar for Thompson himself, acting as an agitated zookeeper for Rob Crouch’s terrifying Dr Gonzo. A sort of mescaline-fuelled, sexually depraved grizzly bear, his embodiment of the twisted side of a long, brutal drug trip keeps ‘Fear and Loathing…’ pulsing through its demanding two-hour running time.
New artwork from Ralph Steadman – illustrator of the novel – brings the projected backdrop to jittering life, but somehow the psychedelia never takes hold. The music’s too quiet while the theatrical techniques are too old and safe. The presence of John Chancer’s Narrator, played as more of a stately American patriarch than an irascible older Thompson, keeps proceedings on the rails. And where’s the fun in that?
If you’re a fan of the book or Terry Gilliam’s superior film version, you’ll have a great time nodding along with Stein’s reverent adaptation. If you’re neither, you might get more out of it by following the example of the gents in the front row who appeared to be off their faces on LSD.
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