The British theatre director Lou Stein recalls how his friendship with the famous hedonist beganby Lou Stein / January 28, 2014 / Leave a comment
Hunter S: “If I don’t like what you’ve done with the book, I’m going to tear your theatre apart” ©MDCarchives WMCommons
It was 1982. The Gate Theatre, which I had founded in Notting Hill, was expanding to inhabit a second home in Battersea. To launch the new theatre, I needed a play with the punch of a highly sprung jack-in-the-box. The idea of adapting Hunter S Thompson’s outrageous journey into the heart of the American Dream, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, seemed ideal. But first there would be Hunter Thompson to deal with. I contacted the book’s British illustrator, Ralph Steadman, and he passed me Hunter’s Aspen phone number with an ominous warning to be prepared for all eventualities.
By the time I finally reached Hunter on the phone, rehearsals were about to start for this new stage production of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He ended the conversation with a warning. “I’m coming out to see it: If I don’t like what you’ve done with the book, I’m going to tear your theatre apart.”
Hunter kept his word. He turned up for rehearsals clutching a large glass of Chivas Regal and ice. The performance awkwardly ground to a halt as he surveyed the set. “I’m Hunter. Don’t worry about me. I’ll just sit here and watch,” he said. The actors looked at me nervously before carrying on.
Now, as I prepare a freshly imagined version of this production for the 2014 VAULT Festival, I wonder how a new audience, many of whom wouldn’t have even been born when it was first staged, will respond. The book is a requiem for the acid generation of the 1960s in America. But, in the current landscape of relentless conformity, its message of subverting the status quo has more relevance than ever. And I now have the added benefit of having met Hunter and worked with him on various adaptations of his iconic book.
The centrepiece of the original production was a stage version of the Red Chevy which Raoul Duke, the Hunter alter ego in the book, and his drug-addled Attorney drive to Las Vegas in. Hunter was intrigued by this piece of stagecraft. During the break, he wandered around the set and climbed into the Chevy. He pretended to zoom around in it, enjoying the ride like a child…