“I saw my life branching out before me like [a] green fig tree… From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.” – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Led by director Andrew Lewis and acclaimed WA playwright Reg Cribb (Last Cab to Darwin, Last Train To Freo), the WA Academy of Performing Arts’ (WAAPA) graduating actors paid homage to the counter-cultural revolutionaries of the Beat era in this show.

An immersive theatre experience (called a promenade-style performance), The Beat Generation utilised nearly every space in the Fremantle Arts Centre, and the audience encounters with impassioned portrayals of the Beatniks were a refreshing change from seated spectatorship.

Emanating from a group of young American university students rebelling against conventionality and materialism at the end of World War II, the Beat Generation had Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs at its heart. Dislikeable and self-centred, drug addicts and even murderers, they are hardly the material of legends, but their writing had a significant cultural impact.

Designed and styled to give the audience the vibe of the era (late 1940s/early 1950s America), rather than to tell a specific story, the audience was guided between 10 intimate scenes by scat singers Reece Clark and Nicole Murúa. These snapshots showed captured the individual’s sense of internal and external struggle; of being conflicted and embattled.

From Kate Betcher’s spoken stream of consciousness to Kieran Clancy-Lowe’s mesmerizing portrayal of a failed poet addicted to the hunt, again and again the piece returns to the work of Ginsberg, Burroughs and Kerouac. Indeed, the highlight was ‘Al and Jack’ – where Rory O’Keeffe and Giuseppe Rotondella compete and obsess over their writing as Ginsberg and Kerouac. A concept piece made possible by using a host of performers, the show makes a point of highlighting the gross mistreatment of women in the ‘Era of the Housewife,’ and Miranda Aitken’s turn as an unstable, asylum-bound Sylvia Plath stands out.

Teaming actors with a handful of WAAPA’s jazz musicians, The Beat Generation required an audience open to a new way of viewing theatre and experiencing the Beats in all their ugly glory.

“I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them…”  – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Words by Samuel J. Cox

The Beat Generation ran at the Fremantle Arts Centre this October.