Review: Cruise (stream.theatre, online)

Jack Holden performs his own play, Cruise, in a filmed version from the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall, for stream.theatre.

Based on a call he received at the LGBT Switchboard, when he was in his early twenties, this play takes us back to the freedom and hedonism of the gay world of the 1980s.

Holden plays all the characters, not just a version of himself, but a whole host of callers, co-workers, and Michael, a “veteran” of the AIDS crisis, who tells his story over the phone.

Jack Holden in Cruise

The bar and hidden door culture of 80s Soho is brought to life in the characters populated within it. The staff, the “nymphs”, the barflies. The music, sex, invincibility. The funerals which began to mark the passage of time, with people looking “sad, but not surprised”.

The strangers who don’t make eye contact or get to know each other, but who meet up in the dark and secret spaces for “harmless fun”. A twilight world under the radar.

The pills which get you buzzing on the dance floor, and those experimental drugs which make you sicker. Moments, people, places. All dot throughout Cruise.

Jack Holden in Cruise

John Elliott adds the sound, which picks you up and throws you into the sticky floors, “luminous drinks”, tight Levis and cruising of years gone by. Hidden corners of danger and fun, and a new pandemic which felled so many.

The basement locations are beautifully lit and very atmospheric, where Michael and his kind-eyed boyfriend Slutty Dave, “dance, drink and live”, even as the shadow of AIDS wraps itself around them.

Holden is a brilliant, energetic performer who can bring a host of characters to life. He acts, sings, moves, and has created an amazing piece of work which really brings the ambience of more than three decades past come to life.

Jack Holden in Cruise

I laughed, I cried. I brought people to mind who were snatched away far too soon. I walked down Soho streets which I know, now, somewhat cleaned up but unapologetically celebratory.

Bronagh Lagan directs, and manages the emotional heft of the piece with the movement, the rhythmic sections of words, the cast of characters Holden conjures up. “I’m lucky to be getting older,” he reflects near the end, in remembrance of those who didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t.

The film of Cruise is available until 25 April at stream.theatre. The live world premiere of the production will reopen the Duchess Theatre for 4 weeks only from 18 May – 13 June. For tickets and further info visit www.cruisetheplay.co.uk.

Image credit: Jack Hextall

LouReviews received complimentary access to review Cruise.

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