A romping, stomping brain blast is exactly what Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas wants to be. It does manage it, although intermittently. Terrific acting, set design and soundtrack somewhat redeem this adaptation which must have sounded like a better idea than it ever really was.
It’s hard to know if Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is crazy fun with long pauses or a long pause interrupted occasionally by crazy fun.
The 1971 Hunter S. Thompson cult classic novel is an acidically satirical exploration of the American Dream. The dream is over, hails Hunter: here lies madness. It is a classic primarily due to its outrageous debauchery and witty and melancholic prose, but not its story. In this stage version we have all the outrageous debauchery, some of the prose but the fact there is no story really hampers proceedings. Things take on a one-damn-thing-after-another monotony. We might be taking the ride but after an hour and a half we are ready to get off.
Certain scenes are gloriously weird. The White Rabbit scene has a lot more balls than it does in the movie. Moments where humans are turned into reptiles in the warped, drug-addled head of Hunter are exquisitely played. However, because these scenes don’t hold together, any comic momentum built up from one scene is instantly exhausted in the next. This means there is a constant murmur of chuckling and giggling but very few big laughs.
The acting is quite wonderful. Cleverly the Thompson character is split in two; Tom Moores is the younger Duke and John Chancer is the older narrator. This means we still get the best bits of the novel as spoken by Chancer with a fully theatricalised lunatic performance from Moores. Both are excellent. Moores walks around like a badly pulled puppet with demented eyes that might pop it if not for his aviators. Chancer delivers the high points of the novel beautifully; his rendition of the famous “crest of the wave” speech sent shivers down my spine and tears down my face. Also wonderful is Ben Hood who excels in a bizarre variety of guises, each perfectly observed and perfectly pitched. His overall performance seems to be far more than the sum of its parts.
It’s hard to know if Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is crazy fun with long pauses or a long pause interrupted occasionally by crazy fun. Like Thompson’s drug collection it’s full of uppers and downers.