Hunter and Johnny

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review (theatre): Hunter and Johnny at Zoo (Venue 124). Reviewed by David Pollock

First impressions might need to be set aside for this piece from the d’Animate company, for a behind-the-scenes tale of the genesis of Terry Gilliam’s film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – centred on its star Johnny Depp and late writer Hunter S Thompson’s odd couple friendship – might seem like the worst kind of student company self-indulgence. It isn’t. It’s wonderful, with so much more going on behind the compelling mechanics of the pair’s relationship.

The piece hinges on two excellently judged performances, with Adam El Hagar’s Depp intensely warm (he welcomes each audience member into the room) and goofily rugged Sam Coulson absolutely nailing Thompson’s physical elasticity and comedic mix of menace and intellect.

When the pair meet it’s in an Aspen tavern, locals scattering as Thompson careens in wielding a cattle prod. “How messed up are you, Johnny?” he questions. Depp once set fire to his face with turpentine, comes the response. “I pushed a mailbox in front of a bus when I was nine because I didn’t like the driver.” Thompson challenged the investigating police to prove it was him and got off with it.

It’s Depp’s job to climb inside this “voice of ink and rage,” and so he moves in with Thompson, establishing what they call the Too Much Fun Club; an orgy of LSD, handguns and character research. There’s a great deal of free-flowing comedy from this mismatched but perfectly suited pairing, and while the period pop culture soundtrack and stylistic playfulness mirrors that of Gilliam’s film, most of its success comes from the strong characters and easy chemistry which El Hagar and Coulson make their own.

The rest is down to the strong sense of clarity and purpose set down by the duo, also co-writers and directors, as they draw together a vivid demarcation of the line between heart-led, all-consuming art as a way of life and transient, careerist celebrity.

Until 25 August. Today 9pm, more info

Originally published in The Scotsman

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