THEATRE REVIEW: Cruise starring Jack Holden

WORTH A LOOK?: ****

HOW TO WATCH: Stream Theatre 15-25 April 2021

RUNTIME: 90 minutes

The dearth of British writing about gay London life in the 80s when HIV and AIDS were so predominant was corrected by Channel 4’s magnificent It’s A Sin and is again addressed here in this 90-minute monologue with original music and songs.

  • Read on for reasons including how and where to see this in the West End from May 2021

Author and star Jack Holden is an actor/writer/producer from Tonbridge, Kent, who graduated from the Bristol Old Vic theatre school in 2011. He has played the lead role in War Horse in the West End as well as appearing on ITV in series Lewis and in Ink at the Almeida.

He took part in the Royal Court Young Writers’ Programme in 2013, is part of Watersmeet Productions and Cruise is based on a true story he was told while working as a volunteer for Switchboard, the LGBTQ+ Listening Service.

Holden says: ‘I was in a weird, unstable, self-destructive part of my early 20s. This story, among others, taught me my gay history, put my life into perspective, and helped me to grow up. The names and a lot of the events have been changed, and a hell of a lot of material has been imagined. This play is a tribute to a generation decimated by HIV and AIDS, a memorial for the old days of Soho, a celebration of electronic music, and an excuse to dance.’

Cruise is the story of Mikey and his partner ‘slutty Dave’ who are diagnosed with HIV in 1984 and given no more than 4 years to live. They spend everything to party their lives away and, when Dave dies after 2 years, Mikey doubles down on the hedonism.

The locations of Cruise will be familiar because it is set in 1980s Soho and the names of venues and locations for example Heaven, Greek Street and the RVT south of the river will conjure up a place that is facing its own current-day challenge to survive in the face of a very different present-day pandemic.

Holden is an engaging performer and along the way we meet many different Soho characters who he easily inhabits and we particularly enjoy ‘Polari Gordon’ happiest in both the bar at a Soho members’ club and the darkness of a nearby public toilets.

Credit to musician John Elliott who joins Holden on stage and provides a variety of musical accompaniment which incorporates snatches of familiar songs including West End Girls by Pet Shop Boys as well as providing the beats for Holden as he uses spoken word to conjure up a variety of images.

The writing is at its most successful when the framing is revealed and the message, with its parallels with today, becomes clear.

The performance is imaginatively filmed backstage for Stream Theatre at Shoreditch Town Hall but we suspect it will be during live performance in the West End in May when this show will really come into its own.

  • Picture courtesy Cruise Tickets
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  • Cruise runs at Duchess Theatre 18 May to 13 June 2021 Tickets

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