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Duchess Theatre



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



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


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Soho – 3*



The Peacock Theatre

Opening Night – 10th May 2017




a vibrant energetic show with top class performers


Soho is billed as “a thrill ride of circus, street and theatre performance, re-creating the exciting, edgy and voyeuristic world of London’s Soho …  celebrating every inch of the magical square mile”, quite a lot to live up to in under two hours. On some levels the show delivers, but just as in the real Soho, we have bits that are really good and exciting and other sections that just need boarding up for redevelopment.

Before looking a bit more at the show, I’d just state that the twelve ensemble cast are a hugely talented young team of dancers and acrobats and cannot be faulted. Their skill, stamina and physical strength throughout is utterly amazing.

The show itself starts on the tube and is a pretty good opening piece leaving expectations high for the rest of the show. We’re introduced to a young man who finds himself in Soho (quite why, we’re never entirely sure) on a journey around some of its most well known present and former haunts – Madame Jojo’s, The Colony Room Club, Bar Italia and China Town to name just a few. Those sections of Soho that aren’t fully visited with a complete scene, are cleverly shown with some neat projections.

The stage at The Peacock is wide, something like forty feet and the show uses it all.  Dance, acrobatics and theatre all going on. Unfortunately this is not always a good thing as at times, there is just too much going on in different corners, making it very easy to miss out on something. 

Many aspects of the show work well and are a joy to watch – the live mannequin, the giant eye watching the peep show, but a lot of the scenes went on far too long – the drag act on the trapeze for one (probably not helped by there being quite a lot of trapeze work in the show anyway, which despite the undoubted skill of the performers, got a little bit repetitive).

Many scenes also held little relevance to Soho and could have been anywhere; The random homo-erotic gym scene because “there are gyms in Soho”, and the bathroom scene (which I’ve yet to fathom out exactly what it had to do with anything) were fun to watch but just too vague in the story.

Soho Square Gardens featured in one scene – the projection showing an urban fox being persued by a foxhunt – why ??? Reminiscing sixties psychedelic trips perhaps, but nothing really again to do with Soho.

Although there are several nods to the seedy history of the area (one scene sees a pimp kicking one of his girls on the floor), so much about the area is just not portrayed, or is glossed over quite quickly. Where’s the scenes showing the multiculturalism and where’s the gentrification that has forced the closure of so many of the iconic venues shown? Theatres too make up a huge part of Soho life, yet barely a mention of them either. Perhaps I was expecting more to be told about the history of the area than the series of seemingly random and often irrelevant scenes we got.

The soundtrack (not live) is a mixture of hits through the decades and at times keeps the show going during the performance pieces that have gone on a little too long.

Was this a vibrant energetic show with top class performers? A definite yes. Was this a great representation of the real Soho, alas no. Go and see it for the performers and not for the Soho story.



Soho is at The Peacock Theatre until 20th May