TAKE AN HISTORICAL site of worship that shrieks 1980s community in South Africa. Rattle its proverbial bones with the shadows and demons of what was profoundly taboo to that sense of community, then. Toss in some harsh lights, a dash of stage smoke and doef-doef music to make your eyeballs jitter in your skull, and the stage is set for a very unusual production. Jack Holden’s Cruise is not, however, only the sum of its contextual parts. This utterly beautiful text fulminating with rhythm and nuance is performed to perfection by Daniel Geddes, and is onstage until 11 December.
Cruise, as the name indicates, is a tale woven around and between the interstices of the gay community. Structured with a narrative within several narratives, as a monologue, it stretches the performer to capacity, causing him to portray a rich range of characters that draw from those who populated London’s Old Compton Street, notorious for its gay dives in the 1980s, and contemporary London, where a 22-year-old guy named Jack mans a helpline called Switchboard, which offers an ear to members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
The work is rich in stereotypes and yet transcends the base grubbiness of bias or homophobia or random sex with strangers. In framing itself tightly within a small community, it reaches for the grand narratives like life and love and loss and it holds them there, in your focus and your heart with a chilling competence that touches on the nub of what it is to be human.
Geddes is completely at one with this detailed, funny and tragic work as it draws on caricatures with splintering, bitchy accuracy; aligns one social plague hinged onto an illness with another – Aids and Covid – in a way that will raise your goosebumps and allow the tears to flow. Written in a British context, the work tosses references in an overwhelmingly South African direction, which cannot be overlooked. It is staged in what was formerly a Dutch Reformed Church. This was historically the place of worship of a staunch Christian community which until the 1990s, was very clear in its bias against homosexuality, believing it to be a mental illness or sinful deviation.
The stage environment is harsh and punctuated with strobe lights, occasionally making for a threatening theatre experience, but the work in entirety functions with integrity and fierceness. Unpredictable in its concerns, this play has the texture of poetry and the song of mourning on its lips. For a South African audience, it evokes the frenetic era of Johannes Kerkorrel at his peak and makes you feel as though, like a subaltern Alice in Wonderland, you’ve plummeted hook, line and sinker into several of Steven Cohen’s upholstered and silk-screened chairs of the 1990s. It’s a taste of Freddie Mercury and a sip of Elvis, with a bit of lip syncing and a lot of the reality of life on the margins of society during a period when homosexual practices teetered on very dangerous social lines.
In short, this play raises a warning finger about romanticising the fashions of an era long past, particularly because it takes more to define a period in time than falling in love with its trendy fabrics and big hairdos. Without moralising, Cruise is a yarn that winds around the cores of being in the world. Never simpering or coy, it is direct and full of fire. Steel yourself. This is something that should not be missed.
- Cruise is written by Jack Holden and directed by Josh Lindberg. Produced by Colin Law, it features creative input by John Patrick Elliott (music), Wilhelm Disbergen (set) and Jane Gosnell (lighting), and is stage managed by Xolani Mtshali. It is performed by Daniel Geddes at the Theatre Linden, 44 Fifth Street, Linden, until 11 December 2022.