Following a sold out run and a highly deserved nomination for Best New Play at the Olivier Awards last year Cruise is back on stage at The Apollo Theatre, London. Cruise is an ode to the gay men who lived, loved and were lost during the Aids crisis, written and performed by Jack Holden (War Horse), this one-man show is inspired by a story he heard while volunteering for the LGBT+ listening service Switchboard, based on real-life conversation with Michael Spencer, a survivor of the Aids crisis.
Holden transitions from a younger version of himself to our primary storyteller: Michael, who tells the young Jack he was diagnosed as HIV positive and given only four years to live. Over the call Michael tells Jack what being gay in London during the 80s was truly like, what a legendary night out really is and how strong he had to be to survive the loneliness and tragedy of watching his friends and lover pass away.
Over the course of 90 minutes, we’re introduced to a variety of characters like a large and in charge drag queen commanding the stage at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern; a quirky older gentleman who wears a maroon suit and Cuban heels at a private members club and Mikey’s lover Slutty Dave who steals his heart at a karaoke bar; and so many more besides. Soho is almost a character in itself as well with the rich descriptions of a square mile of London that now only exists in the memories of those who experienced it. All these moments are painted so vividly and you fall in love with these characters, it is a real testament to Holden’s sheer talent, it is so enchanting to watch as he fills the stage to the point where you forget he’s acting alone.
Holden takes us back to Michael’s glory days, the monologue switching in and out of rhyming verse and exploding into hectic dancing, torch song or cabaret act. The thoroughly researched script contains a gorgeous appreciation of London’s queer history, as we traipse through the city’s historic gay bars. Bronagh Lagan’s direction is smooth and captivating, kudos to movement director Sarah Golding for exhilarating movement direction as well.
Providing the soundtrack and bringing London’s 80’s dance floors to life is composer, music producer and songwriter John Patrick Elliott who is on stage playing the music live; simultaneously mixing tracks, singing and playing instruments. The soundscape that is created captures the musical vibe of a decade which, alongside Prema Mehta’s clever use of lighting perfectly amplifies the action.
Jack Holden delivers a powerhouse one-man show about the joy and tragedy of the 80s gay scene which is a moving tribute and ode, even the darkest moments there is hope. Cruise is not just a mesmerising play it is a vital history lesson, sometimes, when the journey becomes tough, all that can get you through is “every day another step”.
The play is at The Apollo Theatre London till 4th September 2022, visit www.cruisetheplay.co.uk for more information and to book.