John Patrick Elliott is the composer and performer of the live soundtrack of Olivier-nominated play Cruise, which returns to the West End for a strictly limited run at the Apollo Theatre this summer from 13 August – 4 September.
Cruise is an urgent, moving and inspirational play written and performed by Jack Holden (Ten Per Cent, Amazon Prime Video; War Horse, National Theatre), directed by Bronagh Lagan (The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, UK Tour; Little Women, Park Theatre).
Cruise was one of the first productions to premiere in the West End when theatres reopened in May 2021 and marked West End debuts for the producers and playwright Jack Holden. The production won widespread acclaim from critics and audiences alike and was nominated for Best New Play at the 2022 Oliviers.
Cruise is returning to the West End, what can you tell us about the show?
It’s a tour de force of Jack’s incredible one-man storytelling and multi-roling, with a pumping live electronic score. It tells a beautiful, heart-breaking and yet uplifting story set in 1980s Soho, one that really resonates today and tends to blow the roof off the theatre with sound and sheer energy!
How did you and Jack Holden come to be working together on Cruise?
Jack and I worked together a few years ago on a project for Out of Joint (now Stockroom) with director Ed Stambollouian. It was a similar setup with Jack doing the storytelling and playing all the parts, and me on stage with him live scoring the whole thing, but it was all Americana and folk music based.
Both myself and Jack being huge fans of electronic music, we said at the time “wouldn’t it be great to try this type of storytelling with a live electronic score one day?” When the right story came along and Jack told me about his idea for a story set in ‘80s Soho against the backdrop of clubbing and the gay scene, we knew it was the perfect chance to crack out the synths and drum machines and see what happened.
Tell us more about the soundtrack you’ve created and what inspired it?
Like so much of the most ground-breaking music in history, the music that inspired the show’s score all came out of marginalised and oppressed communities. When I was researching genres like Chicago House or Detroit Techno – some of the cornerstones of electronic music that eventually took the world by storm – the sounds were so innovative for that time, but what you ultimately hear is defiance, experimentation and this cathartic energy of expressing identity in a hostile world.
We wanted the show to predominantly feature original music, but I wanted to reference all these iconic ‘80s sounds and textures as an homage to that music and those pioneers who brought it to life.
Hopefully people can recognise these little touchstones, you hear sounds that resemble classic analogue synths or Roland 808 drum machines that were all archetypal sounds from that era, so it creates a feeling of familiarity with music that’s completely new. To me the music’s about building the world for every part of the story, and occasionally having moments where it explodes through the speakers and I get to make the whole theatre shake!
And why do you think the music is so vital to the storytelling in Cruise?
Michael, the main character who tells us his story in the show, is a music enthusiast and recording studio engineer. Music pumps in his veins and like so many of us he uses it to draw a map of his memories, and a map of the Soho he once knew.
So from the early development of the show Jack and I wanted the music and script to really come to life alongside one another, feeding off one another rhythmically and tonally. We spent a week in a room at Shoreditch Town Hall sort of jamming in the way musicians do, with Jack writing on the spot and trying things out while I improvised with synths and drum loops.
Jack’s writing is so musical and rhythmic, it’s great to play off for a musician. Working in this way from the beginning meant the rhythm and flow of the text and the music became beautifully entangled straight away.
It was the first new play to open in the West End after lockdown, and received an Olivier nomination, why do you think audiences loved it so much?
I think the show captures a desire to be connected with your community. Whether on a dancefloor or in a tiny basement club or out in the street, it’s about sharing music and stories and dancing in the face of adversity.
I think there are perhaps two main levels to how people connect with and respond to the show; those who were around during that time of the AIDS crisis and who felt and experienced the absolute devastation of it, and those who weren’t there but feel some degree of greater connection and understanding through what we’ve all been through in present times.
As a piece of theatre it’s also a living, breathing beast that evolves every night as Jack and I get to play off each other and find fresh moments of excitement for each new audience. Every show is a little bit different because of the nature of the storytelling and how the music is put together. When the story gets rolling, it’s like a freight train that both us and the audience have to cling on to for dear life. It makes it really alive in the moment and I think audiences can sense when they’re seeing a show like that, it’s so exciting to be part of.
It’s back for just a limited run, what would you say to anyone thinking of booking to see Cruise?
I don’t think there’s any other show like it on the West End. It’s hard to describe from the inside but it’s this fully alive, energised, playful explosion of pure storytelling and music. If you want to experience a true story that welcomes you to laugh, cry, dance in your seat and really connect with and honour one of the most significant periods in recent history, then we’d love to see you at the Apollo this August!
Cruise, featuring live music from John Patrick Elliott is at The Apollo Theatre 13th August to 4th September 2022.