This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.
As the headline show running throughout The Vaults Festival 2014, Lou Stein has taken on this adaptation of this American novel. The pre-show holding area features a swirling roulette table, cactus lamps and a taco stand to get the audience in the mood. Artworks of Ralph Steadman, who illustrated the novel, are also exhibited and his works appear in the show. Though the effort feels a little half hearted as an introduction to the story of the journalist Raoul Duke taking his attorney Dr. Gonzo to Las Vegas to cover the Mint 400 race. They soon abandon the task and indulge in some not inconsiderable drug and drink binging. Their journey and Las Vegas itself is seen through their heavily drug influenced and skewed perspectives.
The audience is perched on wobbly and lightly padded benches and the stage is spread right across the width of the room. There is a delightful piece of set designed by Rosie Moon in the centre of the stage that transforms a convertible neatly into a hotel bed. The width of the room and the use of projection of images and animation against the backdrop gives an encompassing visual dynamism to the production. Yet, the use of it is not taken far enough especially its potential for the hallucinogenic acid trips scenes. Instead, the psychedelic trips are reduced to the ensemble cast contorting awkwardly, hissing and tongues held out with the narrator doing most of the work.
Adapted and directed by Stein, he retains the role of the narrator as it is integral to the book. The narrator’s presence is useful in bringing out the literary side of the original work, dissecting the drug induced mental landscape and its commentary on American excess and culture. But the back and forth between the action and narration feels disruptive as it is not seamlessly integrated into the production. His position on the far side of the stage does not help either. As the narration drifts into philosophical musing in the second half and the narrative dissipates, the dramatic momentum leading up to the interval is lost. What is left are short pieces of prose and excerpts lacking any theatrics.
Rob Crouch is the brash and unhinged Dr Gonzo and the embodiment of his character. In one scene, Crouch wields his knife with such gusto that members of the back row get a splash of grapefruit juice that the knife is covered in. Ed Hughes is the quieter Raoul Duke but his performance feels forced at times.
There are moments in this production that thrill and there is good support from the ensemble cast. It is a difficult work to adapt to the stage and the ambition is there, though it is found wanting in most departments.
Photo: Nobby Clarke