Review: Tumulus

Soho Theatre
4 star rating
Chemsex parties, possible murders and the search for a necklace combine in an absorbing thriller, even if it avoids taking an unequivocal stance on disquieting issues.
Tumulus at Soho Theatre

Image courtesy Paul Casey Productions, Outside Edge Theatre Company

Show details

Show information

Theatre Soho Theatre

Closed here Saturday 4 May 2019

Cast and creatives


Ian Hallard - Male, forties

Ciarán Owens - Anthony

Harry Lister Smith - Male, early twenties


Matt Steinberg
Christopher Adams
Alison Neighbour
Christopher Nairne
Nick Manning
Natasha Harrison
Matt Steinberg


When Anthony's one-night stand is found dead on Hampstead Heath, everyone assumes that he is another casualty of London's chemsex culture.

When a second body is discovered, Anthony suspects foul play and is thrust into a heart-pounding journey to uncover the truth.


This award-winning thriller sold out at VAULT Festival 2018, and now transfers to Soho Theatre for a limited time.

Note: contains sexual and drug references.


Sat 20 Apr 4pm

Sat 27 Apr 4pm

Join the team to discuss the play and the issues raised.

ActDrop reviews

Peter Brown

Performance date: Thursday 18 April 2019
Review star rating image

Just in case you've never come across the term, a 'tumulus' is a mound usually created by piling earth over a grave.

That term has considerable importance in this deliberately stylised thriller by Christopher Adams, since the main element of the story focuses on a death ... or could it be a murder?

Though this play is not a detailed retelling of actual events, it certainly incorporates several elements from serial killings of young gay men which took place in Barking between 2014 and 2015.

Here, though, the setting is transferred largely to central London and Hampstead Heath in particular where 'The Tumulus' can be found, just north of Parliament Hill.

Anthony (Ciarán Owens) is "not yet 33" he tells us.

That comment, surprisingly given the overall context, provides a running joke through the entire piece - and there are other touches of humour throughout, even starting with a spot of conviviality when apple juice and lucozade are offered around before the show starts.

Anthony might be only 32, but he has reached the dizzying career heights of being 'curator of ephemera' at the British Library.

That is more of a considerable achievement than one might imagine, given both his fairly young age and the fact that he spends most of his time trawling around chemsex parties, which he claims to have been doing for a decade.

Little wonder then that he is plagued by tinnitus-like sounds clicking repetitively in his brain, and is undergoing therapy.

But he also hears a voice - that of one of his previous sexual partners, now deceased and who sets him off on a path of discovery.

And that's all I should give away about the nature of the plot - enough, I hope to be suitably tantalising.

Ciarán Owens' amiably louche Anthony narrates his story for us, while Ian Hallard and Harry Lister Smith provide creditable support in the guises of numerous characters who populate the story.

Matt Steinberg's pacy and interesting production makes no attempt to mask the technical aspects, making a virtue out of them by, for example, showing actors creating foley effects.

In a way, this delivers a kind of different reality - linking the production's format to the altered state induced by various substances the play mentions.

The show's format certainly makes Tumulus an absorbing and intriguing piece, but there's also something unsettling about the play as a whole.

First, there are disturbing echoes of the case of the brutal Barking killings which was defined by police ineptitude.

And there's the disquieting matter of the shocking number of young men who succumb to death by overdosing on various chemical substances each year, as well as the considerable harmful effects of substance misuse in general.

Tumulus has relatively little to say about these issues, beyond mere mention of them, even though Christopher Adams's script is adroitly written.

Maybe his intention is to place the initiative on the audience to draw conclusions rather than for the play to hammer home how we ought to think about these matters.

But it nonetheless leaves a sense that the play's format takes precedence over the need to take an unequivocal stance.

Well-worth catching, though.

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