Theatre Interview: Cruise – Revved By Rehearsal, Or Holden On To Life

December 1, 2022




The Olivier Award-nominated play, Cruise, written and performed by Jack Holden, debuts in South Africa – the first staging outside of the United Kingdom – for six shows only at Theatre Linden in Johannesburg. Presented by HIV@40 and starring Daniel Geddes, Cruise is the true story of what should have been Michael Spencer’s last night on Earth. When diagnosed with HIV in 1984 , Michael is told he will have four years left to live. So, with the clock ticking, he and his partner Dave decide to sell their house, flog the car and spend everything and party like it is the last days of the world. Its staging in South Africa is appropriate, as 2022 marks the 40th anniversary of the arrival of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on the African continent. This South African production of Cruise  is directed by Josh Lindberg, with original music by Roelof Colyn, set design by Wilhelm Disbergen, and lighting by Jane Gosnell. It is produced by Colin Law with funding grants from the NAC; Department of Sports, Arts and Culture; PESP and AfroAsia Philanthropy (Thailand).

Daniel Geddes talks about his work.


Live performance: the thrill versus the nerves – where are you on that curve as a new show starts?

Usually, there’s a healthy combination of the two. There’s always a thrill as you start rehearsals – the excitement of starting something new, and the creative team starts coming together in the room. The nerves aren’t too big up front, as there’s that safe buffer of rehearsals between then and your first audience. But I find myself nervous anyway. It’s one thing to sit at home alone with the script, it’s another to be in a room with other people, to be giving life and energy to those words, and to be putting the work in. It’s realising where you are and where you need to get to that puts on a bit of nervous pressure.


How do you find a balance during rehearsals or other preparation?

I think that finding the balance is about using the nervous energy to fuel your work and preparation. If you channel it well, it can be an asset. But you don’t want to let it overwhelm you or create a negative narrative in your mind. The rehearsal process is the time to find the characters, the places, and the geography of the performance. You’ve got to allow that to happen. And for that to happen, you must be open to mistakes, to confusion, silliness, and play. You can’t be hell-bent on perfection because it won’t be there. The piece needs room to breathe.


In a best-case scenario, what are you looking for in a role? What is the main basis for that decision – the script, the people involved, the challenge to your skills, the impact (positive or negative) it might have on your life in general, or perhaps something else?

In a best-case scenario, I would be looking for all of those things. As a writer myself I really value the script – that’s perhaps where it starts. I am quickly taken by great writing – it excites me as an actor to see words that easily lift off the page and convey complexity in a nuanced and exciting way. Where the script excites me about the potential of a role, the people involved excite me about the work involved. You want to challenge your skills, of course, but that really comes from having a great creative team or cast. The people around you are the ones who will push you, shape you, and encourage you. It’s no fun being thrown in the deep end to flounder and feeling like there’s nothing nearby to hold onto. There are also creatives that you feed off of and inspire you. Collaboration is one of the most exciting aspects of theatre. That’s what I love about the rehearsal room – if there is a great vibe there, then you want to be working, and perhaps the script and/or challenges of the piece feel less important in a determining way. The impact a role might have on my own life is perhaps less significant to me. I think it goes back to script for me – what is the story being told? Who are the people telling it? If I believe in that story, then that is enough. There will inevitably be personal growth and challenges, but I’m not so interested in pushing a personal agenda, or using the work to shape myself in a broader way. But it is important that I believe in the story being told.


Acting is often a vocation, a thing you can’t not How true is that for you now? Has it changed over the years – for practical, perhaps banal reasons? And how do you, or would you like to, keep your calling front and centre in your life?

I think acting has always been around for me, but not necessarily as the only thing I can’t not do. I certainly started out wanting to be an actor, and solely an actor, but as I’ve grown and experienced different roles within the context of theatre and performance, I’ve discovered that theatre is my insatiable desire, as opposed to exclusively acting. I love it, and do still pursue it, but am as excited by the prospect of composing music for a new dance work, and playing in the band for a musical, or writing for the stage. They all have their differences and nuances, but all come together in the world of live performance and storytelling. I think that’s the real vocation for me – storytelling. And I feel fortunate to do that in any shape or form it becomes available to me. The practical advantage of this is that it allows me to stay employable in many different forms. There isn’t always going to be a role available to me in every piece, and that time can sometimes be long. In those spaces, it’s important to have other skills you can rely on, and I’ve really focused on those skills remaining within the live performance sphere. So while I may not always be acting, I still remain close to that world and that craft. That is important for the longevity of a career, I think. You often need to diversify for it to be sustainable, but not so much that you end up in a different industry all together.


What are the toughest expectations to deliver on – all the way from the first audition to the end of the run?

I would say the toughest expectations to deliver on would be my own! The creatives around you understand the audition and rehearsal process, and how we need to work in layers, but I often come to the first rehearsal thinking I must have everything ‘together’. You’ve got to be amazing from the first read. But that’s not possible – if the first performance on stage is the same as your first read – then you’ve missed something. The piece must grow, otherwise what’s the point of sitting with it for weeks of rehearsals? The toughest deliverable though, I find, is finding the truth, and staying authentic. It can be easy to play characters and stories superficially, and perhaps get away with it to some extent. But the real work lies in finding authenticity. That can be hard to find, and hard to sustain, but that’s the real work of an actor. You have to keep finding that, through rehearsals, and through performances. You can never settle, even when you think you’ve ‘found it’ because that’s when a performance can become tired and complacent. You’ve got to always find new ways to keep it alive, while staying true to the staging and direction – you still have to be consistent. That can be a challenging juggling act.


Tell us about your current production, and what makes your character interesting to play?

Cruise was recently on the West End, and is an urgent, moving play about living through the HIV epidemic in Soho, London. It’s a play about being seen and heard. Every individual has a story and deserves to tell it. The story is set in a call-centre, the Switchboard, an LGBT+ helpline – a place for listening. One of the stories we hear from a caller takes us back to the 1980s in Soho, and we meet a plethora of characters and places, each with their own story to tell. The characters are exciting and true, and I get to play all of them, which is a great challenge and treat. The story is anchored around two protagonists though, Jack and Michael. Jack is the lens through which we as the contemporary audience experience the story, and Michael is the time machine who takes us back to an incredible time in history. It’s a story about love, loss, and living each day like it’s your last.