Joyful, painful and wholeheartedly life-grabbing, 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. Stunningly funny and utterly charming, Holden is enchanting. He fills the stage to the point where you forget he’s acting alone.
Holden plays himself as an uncertain 22-year-old on a shift at Switchboard. He picks up the phone to Michael, a charismatic middle-aged man who, at Holden’s age, was living a hedonistic life in 80s London. On the wonderfully grimy, metal set, Holden revives Michael’s story, with Jai Morjaria’s lighting cutting neon strobes through the soft glow of the city streets.
We’re taken from the moment Michael stumbles into a year’s rent for the price of a single drink, to a tragic love story at the end of the world. On stage with Holden, The Little Unsaid’s John Elliott plays an electronic score that pulses softly throughout, beautifully building each scene with angelic, breathy synths as we go from phone line to nightclub to funeral and back.
Holden’s clean, 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 playful, as Michael roams through an eclectic cast of characters – each one performed with crisp clarity and dazzling humour. The more we meet, the more we lose to the growing Aids crisis, as Michael describes men shrinking and disappearing around him.
The weight of Cruise hits so strongly in part because of its sublime joy, vividly depicting the hedonistic pleasures, the thrill of dance and the strength of the queer community. Holden, who turned 30 last year, acknowledges the ignorance and innocence his youth provides and how lucky he is to age when so many didn’t get the chance. Through it all – the parties, the deaths, the love, the sex – the world Holden builds has an unwavering sense of respect for a lost generation of gay men.