Apollo Theatre, London – until 4th September 2022
Reviewed by Celia Armand Smith
First staged in 2021, Cruise is a semi-autobiographical play written and performed by Jack Holden, and directed by Bronagh Logan. Holden, in a tour de force performance, starts the story in the present day at Switchboard, the LGBTQ+ helpline, where a young man is trying to navigate taking calls while extremely hungover, when he receives a call from Michael. We are then taken on a rollercoaster ride through 1980s Soho as Michael tells the story of arriving in London, being diagnosed with HIV and being told he has four years to live, right up to what he thought would be his last day on earth.
There are dozens of characters, all masterfully played by Holden. He manages to create a world that is so rich and full of life and sensitivity and humour and sadness, each character as important as the last. One of my personal highlights was a rendition of Peggy Lee’s Is That All There Is in a club. It was funny and beautiful and perfect. On the stage throughout, music producer and composer John Patrick Elliott provides the soundtrack using decks, guitar, and piano. Every element of this production from the lighting by Prema Mehta, to Nic Corralls set design, to the music creates something verging on transcendental. Sarah Goldings’s masterful movement direction utilises every corner and creates an energy that never dips. Nothing is wasted.
When Michael believes he is at the end of his time on earth, he goes dancing and decides to go out with a bang. A furious drug fuelled dance that culminates in a frantic naming of all the people he knew who have gone. A list that goes on and on and then stops as he wakes up on the floor of the pub. At that moment he realised he must carry on. This play is a celebration. A celebration of queer culture, community, and of life. Watching Cruise is like being in a kaleidoscope of colour, music, and spoken word. The poignancy and the importance of this play could be felt around the theatre. Life was affirmed.