Theatre Review: Tumulus

Photo Credit: Darren Bell

Christopher Walker reviews “Tumulus” playing at the Soho Theatre until 4th May. Box Office 020 7478 0100
**** (Four stars)

There is a chemsex death every twelve days in London. A horrifying, frightening statistic for Londoners. Victims are disproportionately amongst the gay community. A weird vortex of sex and drugs sucks in its young, and would be young, victims for benders that can last for days. If you want to try to understand this world then go along to the Soho Theatre. Their production of “Tumulus” is an excellent tour. And surprisingly there are a lot of laughs.

Christopher Adams play is only an hour long, but I can assure you, if you are brave enough to go you will not feel short-changed. The writing is crisp and funny, and Adams clearly has a love of Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes and John Buchan. It is a witty, fast moving piece. A sort of gay version of “The 39 Steps.”

There is a cast of three led by the wonderfully captivating Ciaran Owens as Anthony. Anthony is a “not quite 33” year old chemsex addict. He clearly enjoys the underworld that gives him access to easy sex with much younger men, and his attempts to quit are half-hearted and hopeless. In many ways he would not be an attractive character, but Adams writing saves him with humour.

Anthony is haunted by the ghost of one of his hook-ups who came close to being a boyfriend, George. Anthony dumped him when he feared commitment. You get the impression that a lot of those sucked into this world could do with some relationship education. George’s body has been found on the Tumulus on Hampstead Heath (which gives us our title) having massively overdosed on one of the chemsex drugs. But George’s ghost assures us that this was not an accidental death, but murder. Anthony feels compelled to take on the case himself. Rather appropriately, if improbably, donning a fedora.

As we are led through the word of sex parties and drug addiction we come across a whole host of gay characters. These are all played by the other two members of the cast whose versatility needs praising in so many ways. Harry Lister Smith is George, and just about every other young addict, while Ian Hallard plays the many thirty-somethings who prey on them. As well as assorted other types, a policeman, and even at one point a middle aged Scottish lady. Touches of “The 39 Steps” indeed.

These two also come up with a variety of sound and lighting effects, and the whole production is really something of a whirlwind. In a good way. Director Matt Steinberg clearly knows how to keep up the pace, and make the most of Adams snappy script. I would be very interested to see if Adams can explore other areas of the gay world successfully in the future, beyond the chemsex addicts. One dinner party scene shows promise.

A few doors down from the Soho Theatre is a sex clinic that apparently treats some 3000 gay men a week, all of them chemsex addicts. The two main drugs GBL and Crystal Meth are vicious. One side effect captured in this play is the constant screaming noise that haunts addicts when they are not taking. But there are many more. Rape is common as when “under”, people are incapable of resisting. And then there is that statistic – one death every twelve days. In researching for this review I was shocked to read how many older professionals, hardened to the drugs, seem to use this whole subculture as an easy way to access innocent addicts for sex. Rather like the eventual murderer in this play. Hopefully some of them might see this excellent piece and feel ashamed.

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