‘Angels Still Falling’



(selected as “CRITIC’S CHOICE” in TIME OUT)

(from TIME OUT)

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), writer, fallen angel, father of the Beat Generation and one of the world’s great alcoholics, lies drunk and dreaming in the back of a bus.  His dream is the story of his life and the substance of Richard Deakin’s superlative play.  Forty fleeting scenes form a biographic flip-chart: from college excesses with drink, drugs and sex, through life on the road with drink, drugs and sex (and his ever-cheerful sidekick Neal Cassady), to life over 40 with drink, drugs and (some) sex.

    The distorted perspective of David Stephenson’s ingenious set forms at once long, constricting rooms; the free, open road stretching across America; and the metaphoric path to enlightenment.  With great subtlety, Adam Henderson’s Kerouac graduates from the boyishly enthusiastic sophomore to the shambling, sweaty drunk with piss on his trousers, unhinged by booze and the discovery that after all there is only ‘goddam noth-ingness, the void of the Buddha.’  Bill Marsh as Cassady is the perfect comic foil…

    …. guitarist and singer Torch (Peter Jagger) provides a philosophic commentary to the whole with occasional beautifully sung songs.  Utterly compelling.  I went home and read the book again.

- Rick Jones


ANGELS STILL FALLING is an entertaining play with music based on the life of Jack Kerouac and his friendship with Neal Cassady, the Dean Moriarty of On The Road. Richard Deakin has streamlined the biography into forty-odd snapshot scenes in which Kerouac runs the whole Beat gamut from beatific to deadbeat in a string of symptomatic moments… 

   …The first half is often fast and frantic, sometimes overtly played for laughs with a revue-style craziness.  The remarkably energetic quick-change staging is well backed by David Stevenson’s versatile set, which has an accentuated perspective that makes it The Road itself as well as a succession of  interiors.  A couple of barstools and a steering wheel become a car, and when Cassady slewed in and out of a near crash that left a back seat passenger thrown into the front and the whole vehicle pointing in the opposite direction, the first-night audience burst into applause.  Kerouac’s soliloquizing is accompanied by a double bass, and the production is punctuated by Tom Waits-ish live singing from guitarist “Torch” (Peter Jagger) as well as period recordings from, among others, Charlie Parker and Billie H oliday. 

   The second half is more sombre, and charts a convincingly clumsy and feverish alcoholic decline.  Kerouac was an old-fashioned drunk in the mind-expanding hallucinogenic 1960s, and, worse still, he was a patriotic old-fashioned drunk: his innate blue-collar conservatism was increasingly out of step, and he thought that the spread of LSD was a Communist plot.  At a time when publicly insulting the flag was more or less compulsory among educated youth, Kerouac was still insisting on the importance of folding it properly, and in a moving scene he and Cassady (himself no longer any great believer in the American Way after being fitted up  by narcotics agents and sent to San Quentin for a couple of years) do just that. 

   “I begin to see Jack’s problem, he doesn’t have anywhere further to go”,  says Cassady towards the end, reading his own letter aloud moments before he collapses from drink and drugs and dies by a Mexican railroad track…

    ….the audience dispersed on a palpable high.



Ever since Horace Greeley advised it and Bob Dylan got his kicks doing it, young America has been heading West.  In 1957 Jack Kerouac, the French Canadian with an Ivy League education still clinging to him, wrote On The Road.  The book shaped a generation, created “beat”, and put Kerouac’s life so far out of joint that he never recovered.

    Angels Still Falling, at the Boulevard Theatre, presents Kerouac according to Richard Deakin.  Kerouac’s struggle to write is an exhilarating breeze westward, full of energy and verve: but his subsequent decline into drunkenness is a painful and tedious vigil.

   Kerouac is a compelling subject, and the repair work needed after the 1979 bio-film Heart Beat is overdue.  Apart from the three-cornered match between author, bottle and typewriter, Kerouac’s life featured a ménage a trois with his wild friend Neal Cassady and wife, and triangular rows with his Catholic mother and his Jewish girlfriend.

   Deakin dispenses with plot, choosing to show Kerouac in a clever series of shifts and flashbacks.   The play catches the intensity of life lived with Kerouac, Cassady and Allen Ginsberg.  It rightly presents Kerouac as the soul of America, more influential than the fluffy ‘60s which followed.  It also recognises that the Kerouac prose style – “spontaneous bop prosody” – is closer to jazz than to any literary forbear and so ranks Kerouac with 1950s essentials Coltrane, Davis, Holiday and Young.

   Adam Henderson and William Marsh as Kerouac and Cassady are wonderful: sharp, sassy, quick and slick.  Their rapport carries the play, and they are essential to some of the best driving scenes one can picture on stage.  Henderson has to search for the dutiful son, distrait lover and terminal dipsomaniac in Kerouac: he finds them all.  Marsh plays Cassady – with boundless nervous energy – as the real fanatic hooked on life who leaves the writing to Jack: “Smoke some of that, man, and you’ll be writing Son of Moby Dick..

   Angels Still Falling uncovers the Kerouac of On the Road  and Desolation Angels.  When he died in 1969, aged 47, Kerouac had started a revolution both radical in being classless and conventional in being all-American.  Kerouac knew that heading West was a state of mind rather than a statement of place.  His life proves that to be everywhere is to be nowhere.