Review: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, VAULT Festival ✭✭✭✭

Lou Stein’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is more than a play; it is an experience – and it starts before the first act, at the bar with a glass of Hunter S’s favourite tipple, Wild Turkey, and sitting on a bench outside Terry’s Tacos, waiting for the curtain call.

VAULT festival, in its down-the-rabbit-hole, topsy-turvy underground location, is the perfect home to this off-kilter stage epic and has created the right moment and setting for Stein to invite a new audience into Hunter S Thompson’s incredible, mind-bending world. Produced by The Heritage Arts Company, it is a completely new and original re-working of the play and a re-envisioning of one of the most exciting, intoxicatingly rich novels of modern literature.

The red Chevrolet (later, the white Cadillac) takes centre-stage, and is a fantastic focal point for the wild goose chase tale in which we follow Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo in their quest to find the heart of the American Dream. With no clear plot, it is the genius writing that keeps the audience engrossed in this surreal journey, where the lines between what’s real and what’s not are deliciously blurred.

What might lose an audience is executed well, with clever use of visuals and sound. Ralph Steadman’s artwork is a feast for the eyes and is a link back to the novel, which he originally illustrated. Projections and lighting guide the audience in and out of hallucinations and invite us to become part of the frenzied, narcotics-fuelled spree across the Nevada desert.

Ed Hughes and Rob Crouch play Duke and Gonzo with a feverishly high energy that fails to drop throughout the two acts, and their stamina alone must be applauded. Duke’s inspired ramblings are delivered by Hughes with a genuine understanding of Thompson’s complex internal monologue. Duke’s older self, played by John Chancer, narrates throughout the play with the soothing, gravelly tones of a veteran storyteller and lends a calming dimension to the experience. The four-strong ensemble also shone in their multiple roles and demonstrated some brilliant physical theatre, particularly in scenes thick with hallucination and surrealism.

Stein manages to capture the mood of the era and stays true to Hunter S. Thompson’s vision. Turning the American Dream on its head, this play urges you to embrace the essence of a counter-culture that celebrates individuality and experimentation. As Gonzo puts it, ‘Buy the ticket, take the ride.’

**** (4 stars)
Runs until 28th February 2014.
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