I Could’ve Been Better On the Road

Razz members Hannah Burke-Tomlinson and Luke Gaillet bring you two exciting reviews. One of theatre piece ‘I Could’ve Been Better’ (Idiot Child Company, Bikeshed Theatre) and one of the film ‘On The Road’ (viewed at Exeter Picturehouse)….

I Could’ve Been Better

Leaving the theatre, I don’t know what to think. And I’m not sure anyone else would either. If someone wanted to they could write a review completely criticising this production; however I find myself questioning whether or not my indifference is a result of missing the point of it all. ‘I Could’ve Been Better’ is just that, but when asked to explain I struggle to identify why. The issues however do not come from the performance, which in and of itself was a success; the actor utilised a number of theatrical devices to successfully entertain the audience in a diverse and interactive manner, clearly he is a talented actor. It’s the writing and premise that one would struggle to understand.

The piece is essentially a continuous stream of consciousness documenting the life of James, most of which seems to be superfluous monologue created solely to highlight the especially uneventful life of a thirty something year old who has failed to achieve anything of relevance, or indeed to mature. The piece is almost manic in its eccentricity and yet, with these mostly farcical and admittedly amusing moments dominating the piece, it is punctuated by moments that seem strangely poignant and striking – possibly because there were so few of them. The most emotive of these moments came through the form of physical theatre, which offered new perspective and emotional depth to James’ character that the writing failed to deliver. There was some debate about what exactly the protagonist was meant to represent, with views being divided over whether or not he was supposed to be mentally challenged. Now when you find yourself questioning the mind-set of the sole character in an hour long monologue then something is clearly wrong.

Despite its confusing premise however, the play was well staged and gave an intimate portrayal of a man who comes to view his own life as a failure and is conscious of the fact that other people view him in the same manner. The arrangement was well suited to the Bike Shed Theatre and its traverse seating, without which it would have seemed much less accessible. Ultimately it was an enjoyable piece but left me feeling mostly indifferent. Despite this, the acting was impressive and the intention and premise interesting, if only in its oddity, and there is no doubt that Idiot Child is an ambitious company to watch out for.

Written by Hannah Burke-Tomlinson.

On the Road…

…is by no means a bad film. I would suggest that the reason many critics have found it distasteful could be because they have failed to understand it. And by it, I mean ‘it’. Unfortunately, ‘it’ – the drive that is submerged behind Kerouac’s majestic prose – is only sometimes present in the film. Despite this, the film has many scenes in order to move the viewer: the adrenalin of a New Year’s Eve party, the loneliness of freedom, the life on the road is ‘lived’ by the audience, so is the emptiness and fullness of friendship.  Which leads me right into what I encourage any reader of this review to retain: Kerouac’s novel is the masterpiece; Walter Salles’ film is somewhat a companion to it. I will repeat, in order to fully appreciate the film, one must equally consider the book on which it was modelled.

Now that’s out of the way, the film itself is visually vibrant and enormously entertaining. One could forget the story, yet appreciate the film solely on the merit of Eric Gautier’s radiant cinematography, reminiscent of his previous work filming ‘Into the Wild’. Gautier captures the jazz bars of New York and the ever-open road, ever-leading West with brilliant clarity and honesty. Complementary to the cinematography, the viewer is drenched in the ‘feel’ of 50s America at the height of ‘cool’. Throughout its 2 hour running time, one becomes transported back to a world non-existent today, almost with the emotion of meeting old friends and places that have never changed. That, for me, was the most absorbing quality of the film, the albeit pseudo-history that was being brought to life before my eyes.

In terms of characters, Sam Riley breathes life most believably into the film’s protagonist Sal Paradise, Kerouac’s alter-ego; it’s just a shame Garrett Hedlund fails to inject sufficient energy into Dean Moriarty, real life Neal Cassidy. It is here that the film falls short, Dean’s charisma and indescribable attraction is not portrayed strongly enough. Without sufficient context, one would fail to understand the magnetic force of the personality who draws others with him around America. However, the standout character is, as always, the great Steve Buscemi, playing just as underwritten and under praised a role as he always does. Buscemi, in approximately 4 minutes of screen time, manages to form not only the most comical, but also the most downright outrageous scene in the film. He is on top form.

In being a film adaptation of one of the most influential books of the century, ‘On the Road’ definitely exceeded the very low expectation I had of it prior to viewing. Though it is no substitute for the novel, nor a classic, it is thoroughly entertaining, and thrilling waiting for memorable scenes to be brought to life. For viewers with no knowledge of Kerouac, the film marks a commendably concise entry into the world of Beat literature, poetics and history. The film’s running time is scarcely enough to contain such a journey, such an adventure, such a generation.

Written by Luke Gaillet.

A big thank you to our writers. Lots of Razz love, xxx

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