Review: Tumulus


Vault Festival until 28th Jan

Tumulus, ‘a chilling queer noir’ and new play by Christopher Adams, uses well-crafted and engaging storytelling, with powerful movement direction, sound, and lighting to show aspects of the deep, intimate, and devastating experiences surrounding the chemsex scene in London. 

Making sharp and poignant references to the previous epidemic affecting the gay community – HIV/AIDS – Tumulus offers insight not only into the individual characters’ life experiences, but perhaps into the collective experience of gay men going through yet another ‘spiritual crisis’. The tone and atmosphere of noir as a storytelling technique are a poignant tool to explore the moral ambiguity, fatalism, and pathos of the subject matter.

The narrative follows Anthony, as he deduces that a former one-night stand might not actually have overdosed on GBL, but instead been murdered and left dead on the Hampstead Heath tumulus. This journey of mystery and discovery takes the audience not only through different chemsex scenes and dynamics, but more importantly, into this character’s inner world of drug addiction, moral dilemmas, simultaneous fear of and longing for intimacy with other men, past mistakes, aspirations, and hope. 

The use of well-placed humour throughout the show allows for a welcome respite of what could otherwise be a very heavy and dark play and subject matter, with the movement and sound complimenting the sense of urgency throughout the performance. 

Playing the main character is Ciarán Owens, supported by Ian Hallard and Tom Rhys Harries in various roles, all delivering strong, passionate, and emotive performances, effortlessly weaving through the highs and lows of active addiction, the comedy and drama of relationships between gay men, and the search for that elusive truth of why so many gay men live with a desperate need to drown out the incessant noises in their heads.

Portraying active addiction in its many forms and dynamics can often be tricky, for it’s very easy to fall into stereotypical behaviours and dramatic crutches, so I just wanted to give a great round of applause to Ciarán Owens for playing the main role with great humanity and compassion.

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Review (C) Ryan C V 2018

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