During the pandemic, actor and writer Jack Holden realised that a story he had thought about writing, could now be written due to the fact that he had time on his hands and he was out of work.
The news was filled with stories about Covid and Jack was thinking back to his time volunteering for Switchboard – the LGBT+ helpline.
Some of the calls he had taken had lived with him, and there were parallels with where we have been recently, as some of the callers were navigating a different virus but HIV had no vaccine and no cure and it was dubbed the ‘gay plague.’
Times may have changed but Cruise is a play which looks back in order to look forward.
Soho in the 1980s
The main setting is Soho and the audience hears about the highs and lows, as a caller relives his experiences from the hedonism and euphoria of entering a Tardis-like club or pub, with no glass on the outside for anyone to see what goes on inside.
We meet a dazzling array of characters such as friendly and welcoming pub staff, a Mancunian DJ with such a magical touch on the turnstiles – he is called Fingers, drag queens, a queen fluent in Polari and Fat Sandy – a kind-hearted queen who becomes a ‘mother’ for those in need of support.
The hedonism is followed by the realisation that the ground is beginning to fall beneath your feet, as a doctor gives you the news you have been dreading.
This is followed by the stares, whispers and people moving away from you.
The government advertisements of the times featured the slogan ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ etched onto a gravestone.
Cruise is not a play filled to the brim with trauma and no hope for characters.
Music Makes the People Come Together
Even though it is revisiting our recent past and we hear from veterans of a pandemic that people were not really talking about at the time, in the same way as Covid, there is something uplifting at play here and part of the reason is that to quote LGBTQ+ icon and trailblazer Madonna: “Music makes the people come together.”
Jack Holden loves music, and similar to one of his favourite tracks – Robyn’s Dancing on My Own, Cruise is incredibly moving and poignant, as we watch as a community is ripped apart in silence.
One by one, they begin to ‘disappear’ and not enter the clubs and pubs anymore.
It highlights how prejudice meant that many died alone, or in silence. And that remains devastating to this very day.
But like Robyn’s iconic track, this play is also empowering, enlightening and refreshing.
Holden manages to capture comedy in the darkest of situations.
Bronagh Lagan directs with a sense of motion, as this is a play which like the characters, rarely stands still.
So when we do get these quiet moments, the impact is akin to that of a stranger punching you in the stomach for no reason.
Much has been written about the fact that this is a one-person play.
Music by John Patrick Elliott
And Holden is remarkable, but I see this as a two-person play. Joining Holden is John Patrick Elliott who has composed the music and he performs it live.
He is masterful and this is truly a performance in itself, as he is constantly moving to his own beats, providing a soundtrack to this patchwork quilt of lives and memories, and it shifts and changes, according to mood.
When Elliot steps onto the stage at the end of the play, looking humble and surprised at the reaction, you realise what a marvellous performance this is.
Prema Mehta’s Lighting
Prema Mehta’s lighting is so strong, that it feels as slick as an edit in a film, splicing these memories together with the flick of aa switch.
John Patrick Elliott and Max Pappenheim’s sound design gives you the feel of getting ready for a night out, but also those downer moments that come out of the blue. It is crisp and clear and never falters.
Nik Corrall’s set design is a series of wires and steel-type structures and that is really apt, as navigating the effects of a diagnosis in the 1980s and where you are headed, is like turning over a plate of spaghetti, as you cannot see an end in sight.
Sarah Golding’s meticulously planned movement means Jack Holden works hard for the money and there is much-needed humour, in an ecstasy-taking scene which will remind Mancs of a certain age of a time and some places.
Jack Holden never puts a foot wrong, this is a wordy script that he has penned and some of it is poetry in literal motion with a pulsating beat playing in the background.
Constantly moving, he manages to engage you and hold you there, as each turn and flick of his hand means that he is now someone new.
Difficult to do without a variety of costumes, yet he manages it with aplomb and dexterity.
There is a saying ‘dance like no one’s watching’ yet Cruise highlights the fact that you should dance like the world is watching, and be more Jack Holden and John Patrick Elliott and just go for it.
This is a brilliant production and it gives you the feeling of being out-out, at a time when we really need it.
Cruise is at HOME until 12th August and can be booked here.