Robert Tanitch reviews Tumulus at Soho Theatre, London
On entering the darkened auditorium a man in little red shorts offered me a choice or lucozade or apple juice. I hesitated. Was it a drug or a coded message?
Remember the film Sparticus and Emperor Crassus (Laurence Olivier) asking his slave (Tony Curtis) if he preferred oysters or snails? On its general release in 1960 The American League of Decency insisted the scene was cut.
Christopher Adams’ chemsex murder mystery is billed as a chilling queer noir; but it does not chill.
A gay man in his thirties has a one night stand with a young gay man in his twenties. Later the young man is found dead on Hampstead Heath. The police presume he is another victim of London’s chemsex culture.
Chemsex is the consumption of drugs to facilitate high risk sexual activity.
The young man’s ghost tells the older man that he has been murdered. The older man, who works in the British Library, puts on a trench coat and fedora hat, and turns camp amateur detective.
You may be wondering who Tumulus was? Tumulus isn’t a person. Tumulus is an ancient burial ground, a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave and in this play it is a location for a series of murders.
There is a cast of three. Ciaran Owens plays the amateur detective with a drug-fuelled distorted view of things.
Ian Hallard and Harry Lister Smith (wearing little red shorts, a chemsex trademark) play all the other roles, instant glib cameos. Matt Steinberg directs a very busy production.
There is an awful lot of unnecessary movement of a slab and index drawers. I could also have done without the digitally generated voices and the sound effects which the miked actors create on stage.
Frankly, being stuck in a traffic jam, due to Extinction Rebellion demonstrators, and wondering if I was going to get to the theatre in time, was infinitely more heart-pounding than this play.