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Published on Tuesday, 14 May 2013

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1 stars

The Warren (venue website)
12, 19, 26 May, 9:00pm-10:10pm; 1-2 Jun, 7:45pm-8:55pm
Reviewed by Mathilda Gregory

 Warning: Contains strong language.
 World Premiere.
 Suitable for age 16+ only.

Sometimes, when you’re watching a show, you realise the cast are echoing your own thoughts back at you. Unfortunately for uber-camp sci-fi musical Cruising, this moment happened when the four-piece ensemble witness a disaster and trill “Is it even real, what I’m seeing, right in front of me?... I don’t know whether to laugh or scream.” But I’ll come back later to the disaster the cast witness, and how it collided with this disaster of a show. Because quite a lot happens before that point. And most of it baffled me.

Cruising is the story of fading 60s sci-fi diva Penelope Conway, a sort of Gloria Swanson of the tin-foil and bubble-wrap teatime saga. She’s at a fan convention on a cruise ship. Fan conventions are distinctly odd things, and it’s quite a job to portray them accurately. Cruising doesn’t even attempt to do this. There is no sense of the convention, of the fans, or of Conway as a celebrity. How famous is she? It’s never really clear. And nothing that happens in the story has any connection to the fact the characters are even at a convention (a convention for 200 fans, which is taking place on a cruise ship big enough to contain a full-size hospital. How much were the tickets?)

Conway is a lesbian. Her husband is a paid beard. She’s faking a (miserable) marriage because she wants to make it in Hollywood, though basic maths says she must be in her 60s; I imagine her marital status is one of the smaller obstacles to making it big in the movies at this stage. The fake husband is gay as well, as are both of the show’s B couple, who are trying furiously for a baby – rushing to have sex because it’s ovulation day. Yet the woman apparently hates children and the man doesn’t seem that bothered about anything (despite which, their baby hunger is their only reason for being in a relationship with each at all).

Essentially, then, the plot can be summed up in four words: everyone is secretly gay. Which is fine if the show is a heightened camp farce and all the characters have strong motivations for living lies. Problem here is, they don’t. It just appears to be something that is happening.

People say things like ‘women, eh?’, ‘If you dare..!” and make jokes about someone wearing socks and sandals. The direction is baffling. Most of the action takes place around a table and chairs that appear to be both a public and a private space. At one point a character fetches a bowl of olives from what I thought was the bathroom. And absolutely all of the songs are energy-sapping sad moments of introspection.

A murder plot appears and disappears, but then is overshadowed by an even greater, more baffling plot swerve. Admittedly, we are told it is September and there is a vague hand-wavy mention of it being 2001. We know they are sailing towards New York. But even so, I doubt anyone could have predicted that this barmy narrative was about to collide with one of the most shocking events of living memory. But it does. Yep. 9/11. And that’s the point when I started to hum along with the cast, singing about their disbelief at what we were seeing.

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