Ed Hughes, Tom Moores and Rob Crouch
Ed Hughes, Tom Moores and Rob Crouch
© Nobby Clark

It's great to see the VAULT festival return to the atmospheric tunnels under Waterloo station. But there's something oddly flat about its opening production, a new stage adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's classic bio novel depicting his drug-fuelled odyssey in search of the American Dream.

That's certainly not due to the performance of Rob Crouch, who seems perfectly cast as the 'attorney' Dr Gonzo who accompanies Thompson (or 'Raoul Duke') on his travels; Crouch brings to mind his recent portrayal of Oliver Reed as he lumbers around the stage in a haze of booze and narcotics, at one point accosting his companion stark naked following a bath.

Neither can the blame be laid at the foot of Ralph Steadman, the cartoonist whose evocative original illustrations are beamed around the stage, in combination with archive 70s newsreel.

Rather, the problem lies in a mixture of a disappointing central performance from Ed Hughes, who never fully convinces as the gonzo god, and an adaptation (care of director Lou Stein) that fails to exploit the inherent theatricality of Thompson's book.

Despite some memorable moments, notably the ensemble contorting themselves into the psychedelic lizards hallucinated by the author in a Vegas bar, never do we get anything to match the visual creativity of Terry Gilliam's cult film version.

Although faithful in narrative terms to the book, the staging is altogether tame, which is a pity considering the potential of its venue. Although we enter through a mocked up casino, these hints of interactivity and inventiveness are never followed through. And the device of having an alter-ego narrator (John Chancer) introduce the action seems superfluous.

It was heartening to see many fans of the book dressed in tribute hawaiian shirts last night. But even the die-hards seemed rather relieved come the end.