Tag Archives: Jack Holden

Sons of the Prophet

Sons of the Prophet


Hampstead Theatre

SONS OF THE PROPHET at the Hampstead Theatre


Sons of the Prophet

“The script feels very polished, and so packed with jokes and one-liners it can sometimes feel like the characters are being held at arm’s length”


The play opens from the point of view of a car crashing into a stag, quite a mean feat given that we’re watching Sons of the Prophet on Hampstead Theatre’s main stage. It gives us some inkling of the deft way director Bijan Sheibani will take this 11-year-old play by Stephen Karam and bring each line to life, directing but not smothering the actors, to deliver a pitch-perfect production.

Sons of the Prophet centres around the story of gay Lebanese-America Maronite Christian Joseph Douaihy (Irfan Shamji) who is trying to support his family in the wake of his father’s death. We meet his brother Charles (Eric Sirakian) and his uncle Bill (Raad Rawi) as Joseph lies in the hospital waiting for news from the doctor.

Karam writes the family’s dynamics perfectly. The bedside bickering is funny – this is a dark comedy after all – but it’s funny in an exhausting, claustrophobic way. Each family member repeatedly tells each other to stop talking, yet none of them do, and when Joseph puts his arm across his face the audience can feel the waves of stress emanating from him (all compounded by navigating the grim-sounding US healthcare system). Concurrently, Joseph must manage his Uncle Bill’s devout Marronite faith and optimism – “I’m saying be grateful, at least you have your health” – “I don’t have my health, we’re in a doctor’s office because my knees are radiating hot pain!”

Supporting characters propel the story forward as it hurtles towards an end with no resolutions, because that’s what happens to families like Douaihy’s in rural Pennsylvania. It transpires his dad’s car accident was caused by a star of Cedar Crest High School’s football team putting a fake stag in the middle of the road to see who would swerve to avoid it – we meet Vin (Raphael Akuwudike) as he attempts to apologise to the family with a terrible essay. The supporting cast, played by Holly Atkins and Sue Wallace (Physicians Assistant, Ticket Agent etc) are sublime, and both deserve a spin-off show for their extraordinarily well-brought-to-life characters. I would like to watch each of them on stage, for longer.

At points the stage feels like a 21st century Fawlty Towers, as Joseph tries to manage a revolving door of disastrous encounters and people (his horrific boss Gloria, played by Juliet Cowan, who makes everything about her), and news reporter/brief love interest Timothy (Jack Holden) who is desperate to break into the TV bigtime by exploiting the Douaihy family tragedy.

The script feels very polished, and so packed with jokes and one-liners it can sometimes feel like the characters are being held at arm’s length. The actors, with the exception of a few wavering American accents, fly with the lines. Any bumps lie entirely with the script, which feels extremely American, and an interesting choice for Hampstead Theatre in London 2022 (prompting the usual questions, why here, why now?) Perhaps it’s because it’s an omen of what life could become in Britain in the next 10 years under the wrong government hell-bent on privatising the NHS: a stark warning of the extra layers of stress and financial worry that will burden almost every family.

The set design (Samal Blak) is stark and unfussy, with a beautiful use of levels, which helps to tie in all the disparate family elements. Aline David’s movement direction introduces a sense of calmness at times during the show when it’s most necessary.

The play deals with the true sense of what it means to be human, as it revolves around the teachings of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet (On Pain, On Passion, On Work, etc). Explicit instructions in the playtext recommend that each character at heart is human – “Gloria may say ridiculous things, but her mannerisms aren’t ridiculous.” Karam calls for the play to be staged in ‘explicitly human spaces’.

The calmness of the final scene, as Joseph meets his kindergarten teacher while he does physiotherapy, is most poignant, and provides respite from his life’s chaos. He confides in her that the last time he was happy was when he was aged four, and although the line is delivered as a joke, there’s a pause from the audience before we laugh, as we all reflect en-masse that life is hard, and at times it can feel like a rolling wheel of disasters.

The play is tight, well-written, superbly acted, and an easy 105 minutes (no interval!) watch. It lifts rather than shatters, and does it with serious humour and a whack of seriously good acting.



Reviewed on 12th December 2022

by Eleanor Ross

Photography by Marc Brenner



Previously reviewed at this venue:


The Two Character Play | ★★★★ | July 2021
Big Big Sky | ★★★★ | August 2021
Night Mother | ★★★★ | October 2021
The Forest | ★★★ | February 2022
The Fever Syndrome | ★★★ | April 2022
The Breach | ★★★ | May 2022
The Fellowship | ★★★ | June 2022
Mary | ★★★★ | October 2022
Blackout Songs | ★★★★ | November 2022


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Apollo Theatre

CRUISE  at the Apollo Theatre





“John Patrick Elliott’s live score throbs beneath the anecdotes in perfect harmony”


Say what you want about the pandemic (and a lot has been said), but in retrospect it is vaguely possible now to glimpse some positive repercussions. And time always has a habit of painting thick coats of nostalgia over past events, so that many of us now recall fondly those empty days of 2020, freed from the guilt that naturally accompanies inactivity, but free to explore undiscovered creativity. One individual who grasped that opportunity by the horns is Jack Holden. A ripple of an idea evolved into a stream (quite literally a live stream – and one which reshaped the burgeoning artform) which in turn evolved into the first new play to open in the West End after lockdown. Its second run comes with rumours of a feature film in development.

Two little gripes to get out the way before continuing. I reviewed the show last year at the Duchess Theatre, and little – if anything – has changed; so it would be easy just to copy and paste. But if the content remains the same, the perception has altered slightly. With the added passage of time, the second-hand nature of Holden’s writing is that much more apparent. His ingenious wordplay and gifted command of the stage remains undisputed, but these are other people’s stories. It went unnoticed before, but now there is a vague sense that the integrity, of one born too late, might be questioned.

The performance does its utmost to silence any reservations, however. The Eighties weren’t Holden’s world, but they are vividly recreated in a whirlwind ninety minutes of sight, sound, song; poetry and prose. The atmosphere and soundscape are spot on, as is Holden’s vocabulary that speaks of a Soho sadly long submerged under the waves of so-called gentrification. Holden is Jack (himself), working a decade ago at ‘Switchboard’; the LGBT+ telephone helpline. Left alone on a Saturday morning in the office he receives a call from Michael. The show becomes Michael’s story – a ‘gay veteran’ who survived, but not without the battle scars and the memories of loved ones lost on the way. We meet his saviour, the barmaid Catherine (Tabby Cat), Lady Lennox who charges just two chats a day for a year’s rent in a Soho townhouse; Fat Sandy, DJ Fingers the Mancunian nutcase, Jacob and Jason – the Nymphs of Greek Street, Polari Gordon and Slutty Dave. The fleshpots and drinking dens (most of which have been killed off, while HIV targeted many of its inhabitants) are brought to sparkling life with a sense of nostalgia that is sometimes overwhelming in Holden’s masterful retelling.

It is a portrayal that is faultless and fearless. Visually unchanging, Holden slips into each character with a finely tuned precision and incredible command of expression and accents. John Patrick Elliott’s live score throbs beneath the anecdotes in perfect harmony. Just as Holden creates the illusion of a crowded stage, Elliott is a one-man orchestra; eclectic, electric, and essential. Prema Mehta’s lighting is, indeed, another member of the cast: an equally evocative voice that helps tell the story.

It is the story of a man given a death sentence who decides to ‘go out with a bang’. Who won’t just ‘face the music’ but will play it. It is the story of a survivor. One who survived first the stigma, then the disease. “We carry on” he says. “What else can we do”. Okay, Holden may be too young for his words to carry the full weight with which they are burdened, but they certainly resonate at a time when we’re recovering from another epidemic.

“Cruise” hits hard. And plays hard too. Hedonistic joy dances with tragedy. Innocence and experience pass in the night. Holden encapsulates a lost generation without mourning it. He acknowledges his nostalgic yearning, and is ultimately grateful that he was ‘born too late’. And he does so with real respect. “Cruise” is an absolute joy. A celebration. A party not to be missed.


Reviewed on 17th August 2022

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith



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