Tag Archives: Jack Holden

“Cruise” at the Duchess Theatre

Previously available on stream.theatre, I was convinced that Jack Holden’s AIDS history play would be better live. And it is. But the surprise is how much superior – a solid script becomes something special through a spectacular performance.

Of course, there’s the thrill of seeing a piece set in 1980s Soho so close to the location itself. It feels great to be back in the West End! Thoroughly researched and poetically written, the script has an extra charge on stage.

Bronagh Lagan’s direction makes the action taut – there is considerable tension as we hear the character of Michael recount what he thinks will be his last night on earth. And the play packs a punch emotionally: the scene where Michael’s partner dies is a dramatic highlight.

Best of all, the show’s music is incorporated superbly with composer John Elliott performing from the start. The live soundtrack becomes almost a character in the action and structures the show admirably.

While the previous filming was accomplished, far more is achieved with the simple scaffolded set from Nick Corrall and Stufish Entertainment Architects. The industrial feel is appropriate for the show’s club scenes while also suggesting London’s constant building work. A small revolve and judicious video projections accompany a tour of Old Compton Street and provide a stage for the great set of characters we meet. 

It is Holden’s performance that ensures success. Taking on a variety of roles is sure to impress on stage or screen, but seeing this done in the flesh is what theatre does best. There is a physicality to the show’s marvellous sections about Michael’s career in the music business – also aided by Jai Morjaria’s lighting design – that is inspired. A standing ovation made the socially distanced theatre feel full – something that Holden and his play deserve.

Until 13 June 2021

www.cruisetheplay.co.uk

Photo by Pamela Raith

“Cruise” from stream.theatre

A strong performance from the talented Jack Holden is the highlight of his self-penned monologue. Cruise is an Aids drama and a panegyric to a lost Soho that is uneven but admirable.

Through the framework of a telephone call to London’s Switchboard helpline, we hear the story of Michael – a “veteran” survivor of HIV – told to young Jack. It’s a sensible device that forms a connection between generations of gay men, and Holden performs both roles well. Regrettably, the younger character is unconvincing and naïve.

Michael’s story, however, is fascinating. As one of the first to contract HIV, after a doctor tells him he has four years to live, he believes his days are literally numbered. Determined to live “wilder than before”, he takes a tour of Soho in the 1980s, which includes a vivid cast of characters that allow Holden to shine.

The pace – if not the delivery – is frequently breathless, which proves tiring in a long monologue: more control is needed from director Bronagh Lagan. And, while the use of songs within the story is strong, John Elliott and Max Pappenheim’s sound design is uncharacteristically overpowering.

The writing conveys a strong sense of place and it’s entertaining to meet drag queen Jackie – a “smashed mirror of femininity” – as well as Lady Lennox with her “origin story tombola”. Holden has some interesting, if studied, turns of phrase that save a script with a few too many clichés. It’s a shame that attempts at humour aren’t more successful.

The script’s patchy quality comes to the fore when Holden deals with the club scene. Sections that show Michael’s love of music are excellent: the energy and poetry are phenomenal, the filming superb and, if you’ve missed dancing during lockdown, these passages will articulate why.

The rest of Holden’s history lesson is competent but lacking the same passion, even with moments – such as the death of Michael’s partner – that should be moving.

The filming of Cruise, using lots of space in Shoreditch Town Hall and including Jai Morjaria’s lighting design, is one of the best I’ve seen during lockdown. But it’s still a relief to know that a stage production is planned – at the Duchess Theatre from 18 May. This online screening, so close (hopefully) to a return to the stage, could serve as an interesting comparison. I wouldn’t be surprised if a live performance of Holden’s calibre irons out some reservations and it is certainly something to look forward to.

Until 25 April 2021

www.cruisetheplay.co.uk

“What the Butler Saw” from the Curve Leicester

While trapped in our homes due to the Covid-19 lockdown, the generosity of theatres all over the country means that we can enjoy shows from venues we might not normally visit. This production of Joe Orton’s classic 1967 madhouse comedy, from the Curve Theatre Leicester, is one of many examples of plays from places I’m afraid I’ve never been to.

A word of warning: the recording is very much for archival purposes, as the camera is static and at the back of the auditorium. It’s a long way from the broadcasts put on for cinemas by NTLive. The sound quality is poor. But, to be positive, it’s closer to your average trip to the theatre – there’s even coughing and chatting from the crowd that you can pretend to shush if you like!

What the Butler Saw is a great play. Orton’s mix of crude farce, Wildean epigrams and just a touch of horror is extraordinary – clever as well as funny. Director Nikolai Foster gives the show the speed it needs, as outrageous characters all descend into a “democratic lunacy”, while a talented cast delivers the often complex dialogue assuredly. 

Rufus Hound and Catherine Russell both give star turns as the unhappily married Dr and Mrs Prentice, who run a madhouse and should qualify as inmates. Hound starts off nicely reserved, although not missing any chance to be saucy, and escalates the action marvellously. Russell ensures her character matches her husband for malice and has a great icy edge. Dakota Blue Richards and Jack Holden acquit themselves well as a prim secretary and a blackmailing hotel bellboy who cross-dress and change identities to great effect. Stealing the show is Jasper Britton as the visiting government inspector, Dr Rance. Britton delivers Orton’s convoluted nonsense superbly, with terrific ravings and delightfully delivered crazy theories. He is, of course, the maddest of a mad bunch.

Best of all, Orton’s play still shocks. The question of how our squeamishness might have changed since it was first written is raised: Dr Prentice as predator is surely more uncomfortable, likewise the jokes about sexual assault and rape. But Orton’s queasy incest theme and satirical highlighting of all kinds of hypocrisy haven’t faded in their power at all. The “pointless and disgusting” subject matter and increasing improbabilities, handled with Orton’s fantastic energy, pose a challenge as well as plenty of laughs.

Available for the duration of the lockdown

https://www.curveonline.co.uk/the-show-must-go-online/