Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Theatrical Acid Trip

When Hunter S. Thompson wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, he was perfecting his own unique brand of drug use, insanity, and philosophy.

When Hunter S. Thompson wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, he was perfecting his own unique brand of drug use, insanity, and philosophy. You’ll find all of these things in abundance in Lou Stein’s wonderfully crafted stage adaptation of the book.

Enduring popularity

The prolific director first adapted the gonzo journalist’s acid trip memoirs in 1982, and the show has come to the Edinburgh Fringe fresh from a sell-out run in London. One of the reasons this play has been so popular, is that Thompson’s diaries are one enduring theatrical image. 

From reptiles in the lobby to hallucinations on the highway, everything in this show is visual and vibrant. The drug-crazed trip to Las Vegas, taken by the gonzo journalist and his wildly insane attorney, is riotous, intoxicating, and solidly acted by all five performers. 

True to text

The strength of this adaptation is that it’s almost rigidly true to Thompson’s original text. The narration is split between an older Hunter S. Thompson re-reading his words, and the younger version living through them. 

The cross-over between book and play is slick and almost seamless. Thompson’s account of his attempt to cover a motor race in the Nevada desert whilst consuming an inhuman cocktail of mescaline, LSD, ether, amyl nitrate, cocaine and other assorted uppers, is surreally funny and often uncomfortably frank.

Stein’s production manages to capture the essence of Thompson’s whirlwind ride. The combination of well-constructed set, and lighting designs inspired by Ralph Steadman’s grotesque novella cartoons, works beautifully to convey the madness to the audience.

Insanity personified

Every cast member pulls their own weight in this slick and surreal show. But the standout performance, for me, was the incomparable Rob Crouch, as crazed drug-fiend attorney Dr Gonzo. 

His acting cannot be called subtle, since nor can his character, but it is strewn with sparks of perfect comedic timing, and outbursts of melodramatic rage. As Dr Gonzo, Crouch is louche, versatile, terrifying, funny, and utterly without shame.

In one particular scene, suffering an intensely paranoid and violent hallucinogenic trip, Crouch lies prone and naked in a bathtub, brandishing a kitchen knife at the astonished Hunter S. Thompson. He then heaves himself out of the water, and parades about on-stage as naked as the day he was born – and certainly not as innocent.

The pantomime-esque scene drew roars of laughter from the audience, and began an undercurrent of very real concern for the fate of his terrified traveling companion.

Well re-created

The world of the early 1970s is brought to life with a fantastic soundtrack – which included the Rolling Stones and Jefferson Airplane – and a well-designed set that adapted cleverly and moved with the action. 

The ferocious pace is occasionally lost in the melee, but to watch this play is to live vicariously through the wild and brilliant mind of a literary icon. 

The only real fault in the production was that it stuck almost too rigidly to the text, and although lighting was used cleverly, it’s incredibly difficult to convey hallucinations, and capture such a grand level of excess visually on-stage. 

Even so, Lou Stein’s production is a valiant effort to recreate a text that delves into the darker side of the American dream, and reveals the era as experienced through one man’s wired and brilliant mind. 

Lou Stein’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is being performed August 12th – 25th, at 16:30 (1 hour 30 minutes) in the Pleasance Courtyard.

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