Review: Cruising, Clubbing, Fucking: An Elegy

Not for the easily offended.

Venturing into the studio theatre upstairs in the Soho Theatre, the awkward feeling of walking into an underground sex club is immediately emitted from the stage. With hains dangling from the ceiling with towels floating around, the show (created and performed by Joseph Mercier) was already living up to its name.

Telling the stories of gay men from the 70s, Mercier has created a physical theatre performance embedding the stories of these men, “post-‘liberation’ and pre-AIDS”. This two-man performance consisting of Mercier and dancer Sebastian Langueneur retells these stories, with Mercier playing protagonist/narrator for each male story, whilst Langueneur plays the roles of the anonymous men who Mercier’s characters prowl for.

The performance felt very biographical mixed with its verbatim stories, and at times it was hard to know whether Mercier himself was narrating or whether it was, Bill, Bruce, Derek or Andy (amongst many other generic male names) whose stories were being told. The characters within the piece were not really developed, in f act every one of them could have been the same male. Yet this was the beauty of the piece. Why should we learn about the characters within the story, when the entire gay scene Mercier presents is all about anonymity?

Cruising, Clubbing, Fucking: An Elegy’s main focus isn’t to be shocking, as it may seem, but to tell of Mercier’s sadness for the destruction of gay cruising areas in New York, how society has shunned them and how each cruising spot has either been pulled down, converted into flats or simply closed. Opposing this, Mercier celebrates and revels in the joy and excitement these places provided, hating how technology has taken over this excitement with texting, apps and online chatrooms.

The movement and dance routines (cheesy flamboyant 70s pop sequences) were dramatic and executed with extreme precision. A mess of entangled bodies sliding, diving and jumping on walls, Mercier and Langueneur never once simulate having sex. Instead, they play with the chase of finding sex, which is what seemed to have been the excitement Mercier wanted to portray. The full frontal nudity was never once used in a sexual manner. Doing this would have ruined the tantalising choreography, which Mercier clearly respected and understood. Instead, the nudity was used to exhibit the body whilst reflecting the location of a bathhouse or a nudist beach, and general gay cruising areas.

The creative team must also be commended, with Ziggy Jacob’s lighting designs brilliantly reflecting the atmosphere of the piece, from the cold, o- edge changing rooms to the powerful use of silhouettes moving as one. The play also sent you back in time with Dinah Mullen’s sound clips from 70s radio stations, dance pop tunes and an eerily awkward metallic amalgamation of sound for Mercier and Langueneur to perform to.

Through the pop dancing and hints of comedy, Mercier turns what society may see as a sleazy, grungy  gay scene of changing rooms, porn cinemas and clubs into a utopia of freedom, dance and “fucking” in this great studio piece. I must add that, although I’m not a hopeless romantic, as the piece drew to an end it did make me want to stand up and scream, what about love?

Cruising, Clubbing, Fucking: An Elegy  is playing at the Soho Theatre until 1 July. For more information and tickets, see the Soho Theatre website.

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