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Cruise

Cruise

★★★★★

Duchess Theatre

Cruise

Cruise

Duchess Theatre

Reviewed – 23rd May 2021

★★★★★

 

“Holden epitomises the hope that is so necessary at the moment, without diminishing the tragedy”

 

“You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative” as the classic song goes; “Don’t mess with Mister In Between”. Well, there’s no messing with Mister In Between in Jack Holden’s solo show, “Cruise”. It embraces hope and optimism with a hug that would have the Covid police reaching for their truncheons. But that’s the point. This show defies the constraints of this past year and celebrates the thrilling side effects of upheaval.

During the early months of lockdown, Holden used the opportunity to write down his reminiscences of his time as a switchboard operator at the LGBTQ+ listening service. Whether it was his initial intention, the result is a powerful, fast-paced, riveting, mesmerising monologue that is kicking the West End back into life. Hot on the heels of Russell T Davies’ “It’s A Sin” TV series, the timing is flawless, but it surpasses comparison. Holden’s research mixes humour and reverence, fact and imagination to give us the exact flavour of the lost Soho of the 1980s.

Jack is a young, twenty-two-year-old volunteer in the present-day call centre. And not particularly good at his job. He has the knack of saying the wrong things, but then again, he receives a lot of crank calls. One day, left on his own in the office, he picks up the phone and meets Michael; a ‘gay veteran’. Michael was Jack’s age in the eighties when he received the then death sentence of being diagnosed as HIV-positive. We are whisked back to that time as Holden adopts not just the character of Michael, but the many, many vibrant and vivid individuals that shared his journey. We meet drag queens, karaoke stars, life-saving and life-affirming barmaids; the delightfully camp Polari Gordon, Slutty Dave among a host of others. We care for each and every one of them, sharing their highs and lows as Holden creates them out of thin air. His performance is as fearless as his writing. Moments of loss are juxtaposed with flights of fantasy and humour; grief and tragedy rub shoulders with laughter and resolve.

But what makes this truly special is the combination of each and every component of the show coming together with breath-taking coordination. The orchestration of sound, light, movement, prose, verse, music and expression is symphonic in its virtuosity. Nik Corrall’s scaffolding set, Jai Morjaria’s stunning lighting and John Elliott and Max Pappenheim’s soundscape come together with a choreographer’s precision as Holden struts his hour upon the stage, stepping in and out of the various characters. It is far from a one man show – John Elliott’s score is a crucial presence throughout; pulsing with its hypnotic rhythms, electronic whispers and crashing waves that brings the eighties into sharp focus.

The closing lines are reminiscent of F Scott Fitzgerald’s “… so we beat on, boats against the current…” The echoes go beyond mere pastiche as the sentiments resonate with a timeless vitality. Holden epitomises the hope that is so necessary at the moment, without diminishing the tragedy. We all recognise the complex issues of survivor’s guilt, but Holden, through the character of ‘gay veteran’ Michael, coaxes it into submission and shapes it into a beautiful celebration. We are still here. Theatre is still here. And plays like “Cruise” will undoubtedly enforce that fact.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by STUFISH

 


Cruise

Duchess Theatre until 13th June

 

Reviewed this year by Jonathan:
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hung Parliament | ★★★★ | Online | February 2021
The Picture of Dorian Gray | ★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Bklyn The Musical | ★★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Remembering the Oscars | ★★★ | Online | March 2021
Disenchanted | ★★★ | Online | April 2021
Preludes in Concert | ★★★★★ | Online | May 2021
You Are Here | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | May 2021
Abba Mania | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | May 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

tarantula

Tarantula

★★★★

Online via Southwark Playhouse

tarantula

Tarantula

Online via Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 30th April 2021

★★★★

 

“this twisted script and Henley’s gut-wrenching execution are plenty to keep us at home one more night, voraciously glued to the screen”

 

I first encountered Philip Ridley as a teenager, reading Pitchfork Disney, his 1991 play about an agoraphobic brother and sister who survive on chocolate and horror stories of the outside world. I’d never read anything like it; the strange recipe of graphic and often violent subversion coalescing with playful whimsy and childish naivety. Like Roald Dahl on a nasty come-down.

Ridley doesn’t appear to have changed his tune in his newest play, Tarantula, in which we accompany sweet adolescent Toni on her first real date with a boy she really fancies, and then, rather suddenly, through a harrowing near-death attack and the ensuing trauma it inevitably spawns.

Georgie Henley’s performance is rich and complicated. Unlike most trauma narratives, Henley’s Toni never loses her desire to be liked and likeable, and to maintain a sunny disposition. Rather than descending into shadowy darkness, Toni is desperate to see the light, making the story all the more troubling. Her smile stretches wider and wider until we can hardly see her at all, in her place just a manic plea for everything to be okay.

Ridley has also never shied away from casual domestic subversion and he does so with such ease, it feels crass to bring it up. But it also feels important and worthy of applause, so needs must. In this case it’s Toni’s dad who stays at home with the kids, whilst her mum tries her hand at various jobs. Toni’s older brother, a seeming classic trouble maker who, in someone else’s story would likely continue to represent something nasty and unlikeable, reveals depth and an unexpected self-awareness. And it appears that everyone is fairly sexually fluid and suffers no judgement. None of this is dwelled upon at all, which is what makes it so completely refreshing.

The one-woman format with little to no production – flood lighting becomes spotlighting on occasion, and half way through Henley removes a t-shirt to reveal sportswear – has become fairly commonplace in the past year, and understandably so what with theatres having to constantly change their programming to fit with fresh lockdowns and social distancing. Nonetheless it seems quite brave to do this only a couple of weeks before theatres (hopefully) open as usual, when attention spans are at an all-time low and everyone is so desperate to leave the house, we’re sitting outside restaurants in jumpers and coats, huddling beside outdoor heaters and pretending it’s not just started raining.

But Ridley was never going to have a problem holding the audience’s attention and director Wiebke Green clearly knows that. Whilst two hours is quite a lot to ask of an online audience at the moment, this twisted script and Henley’s gut-wrenching execution are plenty to keep us at home one more night, voraciously glued to the screen.

 

 

Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

 


Tarantula

Online via Southwark Playhouse until 1st May

 

Have you read this review?
The Picture of Dorian Gray | ★★★★ | Online | March 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews