BWW Review: CRUISE at The Duchess TheatreMay 21 2021
As the likes of classic hit favourites like The Lion King reopen round the corner, the West End also returns with a more alternative offering, in the form of Jack Holden's Cruise - the story of a gay man in the 80s embarking on one last hedonistic purge. Diagnosed with HIV, and given only a short window to live, it's time to party, dance, sweat, fuck and take every drug available. It's 1988 Soho, and Michael's supposedly last day on earth.
Triggered by the memory of a conversation had eight years ago, writer/performer Holden decided to write a play around his experience working on the Switchboard - a free 24 hour phoneline for LGBTQ+ people to use to talk and have their experiences listened to. Playing a younger self, and through performed interactions, Holden details the anxiety he faced in this role. However, that anxiety comes to a head when one particular exchange takes him on a queer history lesson he will never forget.
Set within the seedy, sensual and celebratory walks of 80s gay life, and underscored by a mix of pop, synth and house, Cruise takes us a rollercoaster full of thrills and dips. Similar to It's a Sin and The Inheritance in its tackling of the AIDS epidemic, the piece doesn't remain in this doom and gloom backdrop, but instead presents a romantic, vibrant picture of being gay during those times. Holden uses high action moments to convey joy and passion - there's a remarkable spark to his performance that captures your attention from the start.
Bronagh Lagan's direction brings out an enthusiasm to the work that is contagious, and as an audience member you are fully enthralled in this 90-minute high-speed chase. It takes you on an emotional ride that never lets you off the hook, and when you are allowed to relax, you feel bruised by what you've just seen. There's no surprise that many audience members have tears in their eyes - Holden's script is nuanced and littered with tiny details that paint a beautiful picture of the importance of celebrating love and life.
Feeling epic in form, the piece has a bravery unlike most one-person shows. It constantly takes risks and delivers electricity throughout. John Elliott's music is nothing short of extraordinary and does so much to set atmosphere and add high impact. Combined with Jai Morjaria's pulsating lighting design, you are transported into a space you never want to leave. It's no wonder Holden wanted to bring Michael's story to the stage - it's deserving of an audience, and this piece, is deserving to be a sell-out hit.
***** Charlie Wilks