Monday, October 17, 2016

Theatre: The Beat Generation (★★★½)

Devised and directed by Andrew Lewis 
Devised and performed by WAAPA 3rd Year acting students
Fremantle Arts Centre
12 – 16 October, 2016

Rory O'Keefe and Guiseppe Rotondella come to grips
Theatre is always on the move, and WAAPA, our estimable academy of performing arts, moves with it. A mirrored and glittering spiegeltents now stands in the Mt Lawley campus to train future fringe stars. WAAPA students strike out to iconic locations around town for site-specific and promenade performances.
This is good for their training, and it’s very good for us. Unshackled by the limitations of cast and crew size and the counting of beans, and with boundless talent and energy at their disposal, their public shows, taken together, are the most adventurous, diverse and exciting offered by any of our theatre companies (if we can call WAAPA that).
No-one else here could even dream of mounting The Beat Generation, a rambling, multiform exploration of that tiny movement of hedonistic, hierarchical and highly talented poets, novelists and provocateurs in New York and San Francisco in the 1940s and ‘50s.

Rambling, because that’s what the audience does, around the courtyards, corridors and staircases of the Fremantle Arts Centre. The personages of Beat – its Unholy Trinity, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S Burroughs, their attendants, named and unnamed, and, importantly, their often sidelined female colleagues and companions – emerge in their dark jackets, thin ties and berets on landings, in hallways, in rooms converted to courtrooms and murder scenes.
There’s no continuing characterization or chronology; some scenes are events – the 1957 Howl Trial, the death of Burroughs’ wife Joan Vollmer, some are imagined conversations or characters, some play out the work and themes of the Beats.
There are some very fine performances: Rory OKeefe and Guiseppe Rotondella are all frisson as the straight Kerouac and gay Ginsberg (and slip Donald Trump’s sound “grab” in for good measure), Kieran Clancy-Lowe is louche and Sam Shepherd-like as a poet on the make and the skids, and Will McNeill is haunting as an un-named writer with a block. Emma O’Sullivan is bloody and brilliant as Vollmer, and Anna Apps, Sarah Greenwood, Brittany Santariga and Sophia Forrest are precise and frightening as a chorus line of perfect little housewives.
They are just a few of many. There’s barely a slip-up, and none that needs mentioning.
In the week that the Beat Generation’s greatest and most famous heir won the Nobel Prize for literature, it’s good to be reminded of their legacy.
And of how lucky we are to have WAAPA to do the reminding.

This review appeared in The West Australian 15.10.16

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