Kerouac: And All That Jazz, Greenside Riddle's Court, Review

Jack Kerouac typing On the Road on a large roll of paper
Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Theatre on the Edge
Barrie Wheatley (writer and director), Jayden Platten (lighting, sound, projections)
Chris Gruca (Jack Kerouac), Jackie Rodgers (Memere), Mason Lawn (Neal Cassady), Sally Evans Witts (Carolyn Cassady), Molly Robinson (Launne Henderson)
Running time

I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up… With the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my life you could call my life on the road.’  Jack Kerouac, ‘On the Road’

This autobiographical, modern classic chronicles Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty’s crazy, criss-crossing journey across America. On publication in 1957, The New York Times hailed it as “an authentic work of art. The writing is of a beauty almost breathtaking ..either for insight, style or virtuosity. A major novel.”

To commemorate the centenary of Kerouac’s birth (1922), this meticulously researched play by Barrie Wheatley, delves into the writer’s life to explore the creative spark which inspired his experimental, improvised poetic prose. Surrounding Jack, the ensemble cast feature Neal and Carolyn Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, Luanne, and his dear mother, Memere. 

With minimalist staging, vintage photographs, book titles and text are proejcted on a large screen, while a smooth soundtrack of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzie Gillespie, Count Basie adds the perfect period atmosphere.  The narrative is told through fast paced scenes, moving from Jack’s family home to nights out in NYC, travel trips to Denver and California. 

What is most effective are the dramatised extracts from On the Road in which Jack and Neal portray their alter egos, Sal and Dean, evoking their euphoric sense of freedom as they hit the road.  The are the Beat Generation, ‘the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time.’

Many more enriching poetic references to key texts – Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues, Big Sur, Dharma Bums and Howl by Allen Ginsberg:  ‘I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,  ..  smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz.’

What the play dramatises brilliantly is the friends’ mutual passion for expressive, musicality of language, discussing and debating how to write. Neal argues that there’s no need for a comma in a sentence as it gets in the way of describing his true feelings. Jack wants to find his own unique literary voice to capture the rhythm, ‘raciness and freedom and humour of jazz.”

Kerouac sits at a typewriter with a continuous roll of white paper, bashing away at the keys as he completes ‘On the Road’ in a three week frenzy of uninterrupted writing. He had thus created his own freeflowing, spontaneous prose which conveys the characters’ drug-induced, rush of energy and fast speed driving Route 66.  

The story is equally about the various marriages, divorces and and all manner of romantic and sexual affairs: Memere presents the Catholic voice of morality, naïvely confused by all their extramarital relationships. Luanne however explains that this is a new, modern post-war society.  

With strong character acting, the uncanny look-alike cast get to the heart of the characters’ unbreakable bond of friendship and trust, sharing the same emotional experiences and spiritual philosophy - here are the ‘angel headed hipsters’, their interconnected literary lives and loves, dreams, drink, drugs, poetry and passion. 

Performed and directed with imagination and style, this cool, colourful portrait of Kerouac, pulsates with the syncopated rhythm of jazz and dramatic beat.  


6 – 12 August, 2023 @ 15:00

Ticket prices: £12 (£10)

Age guidance, 12+  Strong language/swearing