The Coming and Going of Age [by Matt Baker]
As soon as I entered the TAPAC theatre I was struck the realisation that I had seen Beautiful Losers nearly 10 years earlier when it premiered at the Silo Theatre with Ian Hughes and Scott Wills. Wills is reprising his role as Neal Cassady… And 10 years is a long time. While this can bring additional depth to an actor, it inevitably ages them dramatically. An actors’ actual age is not important, but their playing age is, and sitting in the mid-30 to mid-40 decade range, as Paul Glover (Jack Kerouac) and Wills are, they are at the high end for these characters, and I would be more inclined to believe a younger cast who age within the play. The most significant difference this makes is the dynamic between the two men, who go from their textual lives as youths with hedonistic abandonment to (im)mature men clutching onto their fading youth. It’s slightly sad, and slightly creepy, and it also goes against the progress made by Wills’ character towards the end of the play.
That is not to say that Glover and Wills are not well cast in their roles. Wills has an incredible energy which he sustains with great stamina, and Glover brings a gravitas to his thoughts as only a struggling writer can. These are both talented actors, and they never once drop the ball. They do, however, sit in a certain rhythm, one which, while very specific and hits all the marks, seems to prevent these two actors from really listening to each other and working organically from moment to moment.
Both Glover and Wills morph in and out of smaller supporting roles with great clarity, and bring a pathos-induced weight when playing the opposite’s paternal figures; mother and father respectively. However, the drama never really ensures until we meet the main characters later in their lives and an antagonism is conceived, which leads me to question why we spent so much time with them on the road, as their relationship on this journey never really changes. While there is great beauty in their dialogue, it feels as if it’s simply filling in the gaps for those who haven’t read Jack Kerouac’s book as opposed to generating any drama. One could argue that it establishes the relationships between the two men, but this is successfully accomplished in the opening scene, and doesn’t go any further.
Director Margaret-Mary Hollins shapes the narrative well, and makes excellent use of Jane Hakaraia’s simple yet effective lighting and set design. The bare stage allows for a wide range of physicality from each of the actors, with their movement being a staple and well-orchestrated element of the piece. Even in the more subtle scenes Glover and Wills are able to give nuance to their performances, which could otherwise have resulted in them turning into talking heads on stage. The lighting states are generally subtle, with nicely stylised moments coming into play when necessary.
The book-cover style projections make for appropriate backdrops, but the shadow effects are messy and out of focus. The soundtrack to the play, which includes Sister Roestta Roupe, Lou Donaldson, and Herbie Mann, is entirely appropriate, as are the sound effects – bar the final one which completely drowns out Wills’ final monologue.
Written by New Zealand playwright Mike Hudson, the play’s intention comes across as paying homage to Jack Kerouac, but doesn’t introduce anything particularly new to the story of these two men and their journey. If you haven’t read On The Road, or if you have a desire to see a more docile version of Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas as portrayed on stage, this play will certainly suffice.
Beautiful Losers is presented by House of Hudson and is playing at TAPAC Theatre until 8 September. For more details see TAPAC