Kerouac: And All That Jazz

Barrie Wheatley
Theatre on the Edge
Greenside @ Riddles Court

Kerouac: And All That Jazz

Kerouac, Ginsberg and Cassady, the tumultuous trio whose writings, and more importantly relationships, cemented and in part created the mythos and magic of the Beat Generation. While individually, each has a level of notoriety from their writing, the lives and loves and their mutual affections and writings both to each other and to partners is almost as fascinating a story, and a far more human one.

In Kerouac: And All That Jazz, we meet the titular scribe and his friends and follow them sporadically over many years as they laugh, love, smoke and return, eventually, always to the roads. But the show isn’t just about the men. The women in their lives are given as much a centre stage, as Neal’s wives Carolyn and Luane are prominent characters, as is Kerouac’s perpetually shocked catholic mother, Memere.

Barrie Wheatley’s play uses snippets of texts, from sections of Kerouac’s novels On the Road, Dharma Bums and Big Sur as well as fragments of his Choruses, to Ginsberg’s Howl; it suffuses the atmosphere with a sense of literary improvisation. As the title suggests, there is more than a little element of jazz at work here. While the play is steeped in jazz and bebop running under the action as a soundtrack, the actors themselves bounce off each other, as much as the characters do as they write around the syncopated beats of their lives.

It’s unfortunate, then, that ultimately life isn’t quite as interesting as fiction. The play is well acted and performed, but the real meat of it feels distant. It’s a chronicle with no argument, a love letter with no broken heart, and much as the beat poets dwindled into twilight as the hippie movement took over, so the characters fade into insignificance as the play closes. But maybe that’s where the road was always leading.

Reviewer: Graeme Strachan

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