Jackdaw Media’s creative director Jacquie Lawrence on a new West End show by Jack Holden
BY JACQUIE LAWRENCE
As soon as you see the lone figure of composer and performer John Elliott, playing ambient club music that heralds the appearance of writer and performer, Jack Holden, you know that CRUISE is more than a ‘one man’ show. The play is so multi-layered in narrative, style, form and characterisation that you feel like you’ve sat through a feature film comprising a diverse cast of club kids, disco queens, bull dykes, daddies, bears, Polari queers and more. The premise is simple yet pure. Jack, a green-gilled gay man on one of his first Switchboard shIfts takes a call from Michael, whose HIV survivor’s story is as rich as the glittering streets of the 1980s Soho he inhabited in his twenties.
Soon we are pulled back in to an avalanche of 1980s social, cultural and political references with an unashamedly queer interpretation. The flight scene in the 1980’s blockbuster Top Gun becomes a metaphor for a gay death from AIDS. Tom Cruise is cruised, Kylie is danced and DJ gods are lauded.
Jack Holden is spellbindingly able to navigate the play’s multiple generational and time shifts, lending his acting, song and dance skills to a cacophony of characters seen and heard from Michael’s point of view. A camp, older New York gay takes Michael under “his bingo wing”. Polari Gordon gives ‘fabulosa’ advice and Tabby Cat, a Bull Dyke bartender, is sensitive to Michael’s diagnosis. However, the most assured dialogue is between Jack and Michael and then Michael with his lover ‘Slutty Dave’. After Dave’s inevitable death, Michael attempts to make one last big night out on 29th February in the leap year of 1988. He has been given less than four years to live, so assuming he will not see another 29 February, this becomes his ‘last night on earth’. And woah, what a night it is. We lurch from the bars and pubs of Old Compton Street (the iconic Admiral Duncan and the Swiss Tavern) via a secret member’s club and onto actual Heaven itself (Nirvana Under The Arches). When other gay spaces are referenced, like the Vauxhall Tavern where Jack Holden delivers a sensational torch song performance, you can almost taste and smell Michael’s memories.
Ultimately CRUISE is about love. A love story between Michael and his dying lover Slutty Dave, a love letter to the 1980s and a love-driven homage to all the boys who didn’t make it. There is one gobsmackingly emotional scene where Michael, in an ecstasy driven frenzy, swirls to the soundtrack of a crescendo of boys’ names. Boys who didn’t reach the age of 30. I stopped counting after twenty three names and started crying instead.
As a lesbian obsessed with the dearth of lesbian history, I did not feel excluded from this unapologetically gay male story. As a lesbian who was part of the 1980s & 1990s Soho scene, I thank Jack Holden and his beautiful play for letting be an appreciative part player in the story of a scene I knew, loved and lost. That said, now is time that lesbians told their own herstories so let’s throw down the gauntlet. We need lesbocentric plays that celebrate our past, present and future and which are written, produced, directed and performed by lesbians. That they will be as much as a tour de force as CRUISE, is certainly something to aim for.
CRUISE is partnered with Switchboard for this run at the Duchess Theatre and runs from Tuesday 18 May – Sunday 13 June at the Duchess Theatre, 3-5 Catherine Street, London, WC2B 5LA. Book now.
DIVA has a special discount for tickets on Wednesday 26 May use the code DIVA25 or CLICK HERE
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