Author: Hunter S. Thompson
Adapted & Directed: Lou Stein
Artwork: Ralph Steadman – there was a separate area with a collection of original artwork from the novel which was fantastic, Steadman expertly captures the unique inner workings of Thompson’s mind.
Genre: I’m not sure this can even be categorized, but if I make a stab, I would say ‘drug-fueled, madcap adventure’ or alternatively a cynical satire on American society and that oh so elusive hunt for the ‘American Dream.’
Actors: Boasting a tiny cast of seven the headline roles are: Ed Hughes playing Raoul Duke, Rob Crouch playing Dr Gonzo and John Chancer as the narrator.
Why? To be matter of fact I love this book, call me unoriginal but I find the works of Hunter S. Thompson bloody brilliant. I enjoyed the adaptation of the novel which stars Johnny Depp and so when learning the location and style of this production I couldn’t not attend, especially with the tickets being a bargainous £25 – plus it meant I managed to avoid the sickening Valentine’s day scene that was to be found across the rest of London.
Where? The location was inspirational for the style of the play, The Vaults Waterloo. This is to be found by descending a dodgy looking staircase and into an underground graffiti decorated tunnel. The labyrinth of tunnels lended itself spectacularly to the production and really added to the overall enjoyment. I had been a patron of The Vault before at the fantastic Blitz Party so if you get the chance you should definitely try to attend an event at this venue.
Refreshments: I expected the drinks to carry a hefty price tag, however, I was happy to see that a double & mixer was only £5, so I had a couple of rum & cokes and my date for the evening had a couple of ales – which were apparently acceptable. At the interval I purchased a couple of pulled-pork tostdas (these were over priced at 2 for £5 for what was in essence a canapé) unfortunately these were probably tastier about an hour before as by the time we bought them the tortilla was dry and easily breakable, the pork lacked flavour too but the jalepenos definitely brought a tear to the eye! – the speck & gorgonzola pizza we picked up later from Alba, just off Clapham High Street was by far superior.
Synopsis: “Dr Hunter S Thompson’s twisted, madcap adventure to find the heart of the American Dream. Two assignments in Nevada turn super-ugly for a young journalist and his travelling companion, an attorney. Partly because they’re chock full of narcotics, but mostly because they’re on a savage journey to discover how the idea of America got broken, and why there’s no way back to freedom, real freedom.”
Another evening of battling against the hefty wind and rain, that made even my hardy golf umbrella quail at the idea of being used, I managed to navigate my way through the throngs of single red roses and bedraggled last minute heart shaped balloon purchases and descended into the tunnels of The Vaults.
My partner in crime for the evening had come from the opposite side of the tunnel so after a very confused phone conversation describing the graffiti we were stood by we found each other and entered the labyrinth that would be our romantic Valentine’s home for the evening.
Umbrella and motorbike paraphernalia dumped in the cloakroom, double rums purchased (surprisingly cards are accepted down in the depths of waterloo) we headed into what looked like a cross between a circus and a crack den – marvelous!
The theatre set was exceptional in its attention to detail and the original scenes described in Hunter S.Thompson’s novel. The rear wall was painted with reproductions of some of Ralph Steadman’s nightmare-cartoon representations of the trip, with further artwork projected on to it along with newspaper cuttings, news clips including the skull of an animal. In terms of the set this was simple yet effective with the initial act being centered around the now iconic souped-up convertible dubbed the “Great Red Shark.
As it should be the soundtrack throughout the performance was top class, especially ‘White Rabbit’ and ‘Somebody to Love’ both sung by Jefferson Airplane (not live unfortunately) being blasted out – I really need to by an album!
In terms of the actors, the stand-out performance for me goes to the narrator, John Chancer, his whole being became that of Hunter S. Thompson’s semi-autobiographical character and the performance was brilliant. However, kudos has to be given to Rob Crouch whose infamous bath scene was, to be candid, a ‘show-stopper’ and was acted with pure commitment to the character and with serious aplomb. Praise must also be heaped on the support acts, whose roles changed intermittently throughout ranging from hotel staff, to policemen, especially that of Libby Northedge who took on the role of Lucy with style and acted some of the most extreme and impressive facial expressions I’ve ever seen anyone pull!
Overall, I would like to believe that this once-in-a-lifetime collaboration between Hunter S.Thompson’s old friend and colleague Lou Stein and the legendary British illustrator Ralph Steadman would have made this most famous and memorable of authors happy – because it sure as hell impressed everyone in the audience that I was sat in – if you can I urge you to buy tickets before it’s too late!
Rating: 9 out of 10