Friday, 21 May 2021

REVIEW: Cruise at the Duchess Theatre

When walking into the auditorium of the duchess the air felt somewhat electric. Audience members buzzed and hummed with palpable excitement. Theatre is back! And what a return... 

It is somewhat misleading to label ‘Cruise’ a one-man play. Jack Holden plays countless, hilariously specific and nuanced characters throughout the ninety-minute rollercoaster which are so well rounded, you often forget there’s only one actor on stage. What I particularly enjoyed about the piece was that it was written from the perspective of Holden, at age twenty-two working for the LGBTQ+ hotline- switchboard. Early on he tells his co-worker- Kevin- that sometimes he feels like he was born in the wrong era. That he should’ve been born in the eighties. A pale-faced Kevin responds with ‘you don’t’. This perspective places us immediately in the now, veering away from a more conventional, period approach to the HIV/ AIDS crisis. 

After a heavy night out and cocaine comedown, Jack is alone in the office after his colleagues fail to show up. He picks up the phone to Michael, and thus our story begins. Michael guides Jack through his exploits in Soho. We meet larger than life characters who give us an insight into the vibrant and grotty underworld of the gay scene in Soho. A personal shoutout goes to Polari Gregory who reminds Michael to just take it ‘one step at a time’ when he is struggling to deal with the loss of a loved one. It’s a beautifully still moment within the show, which you feel like Holden really earns after throwing himself around the stage for the past hour. 

Jack Holden really was exquisite. You felt so comfortable in his hands and immediately warmed to his assured charm. The worst thing you can possibly say to an actor after a performance is ‘How did you remember all those lines?’ But seriously, HOW?! There seemed to be no accent he couldn’t master and to top it all off he had the singing voice of an angel! It seemed as though Holden and Director Bronagh Logan were a perfect match. The piece felt fluid and was constantly sparking with energy. Also, props to the pair who have obviously done their research. From pop culture references to Polari, it was clear they had a strong understanding of the world of the piece. Every move Holden made was fully committed, you could sense his excitement to be welcoming audiences back to theatre. 

Another wonderful facet of the piece was its music. John Elliott creates a live soundtrack to the action which does make you feel like you’re back in the clubs of Soho. It was particularly effective when Holden would interact personally with the music- speaking into a microphone which would then be echoed and reverberated by Elliott. I would have loved to have seen more of this interaction. 

Nik Corralls set I found somewhat busy and would’ve preferred more attention to be just on Holden. Can you tell I’m a fan of Holden? The strobing and neon lighting design by Jai Morjaria was the real star of the show and one could imagine a version of the piece which kept more focus on sound and lighting rather than clunky scenery. With such expansive and visceral text and direction, I just wished Holden had a bit more space to run free around the stage. 

To conclude, it was a wonderful evening at the theatre. I must admit after recently watching programmes such as ‘It’s a Sin’ and plays such as ‘Angels in America’ and ‘The Inheritance’, I didn’t know what other perspectives there were out there on the AIDS crisis. Like Jack at the beginning, this point of view was very naive. By viewing the eighties characters through the lens of Jack the piece becomes automatically modern and feels incredibly urgent. As Holden finishes the piece by pointing out the correlation between the covid virus and HIV, one can’t help but feel very moved. It reminds us to respect our elders, the gatekeepers who came before us. The timing feels particularly poignant as we enter into a new phase or chapter in our lives. Like Jack, I hope we can adopt more nuanced gratitude of what it is to be a survivor post-virus. 

Review by Max Barber 

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: Dress Circle, Row B | Price of Ticket: £48

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