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Cruise at the Apollo Theatre, London

How would you spend your last night on earth? If you knew the time and date of your departure from this world, what would you do as the hour approached? You could sit at home and contemplate life or maybe spend an evening with loved ones. Alternatively, you could spend your last night celebrating the life you have led and the one you will be missing out on. If this is your option, then you will be just like Michael, the main character in Cruise which has returned to London for a limited run at the Apollo Theatre.

Cruise 2022 - Pamela Raith Photography.
Cruise 2022 – Pamela Raith Photography.

22-year-old Jack (Jack Holden) has decided to give something back to the community. As a young gay man, enjoying all that London has to offer, Jack volunteers to work for Switchboard, an LGBT+ phoneline and advice service. After completing his training, Jack is ready to fly on the phones. One Saturday morning, Jack arrives for his shift slightly the worse for wear. He was, as the saying goes, having it large the night before. He hasn’t slept, is possibly still a bit drunk and definitely has some illegal substances running through his body. Still, it’s not too bad, as there are two volunteers on the rota this morning. Whilst the other is middle-aged and to Jack’s young mind, a bit of a pervy guy, at least there’ll be something there to help him. But, as the first call comes in, Jack is on his own and dealing with something very unexpected. As the phone rings, Jack picks it up and a man called Michael is on the other end. Middle-aged Michael is initially a bit reluctant to talk to someone so young – echoing some of Jack’s own insecurities – but eventually responds to Jack and tells the young lad his story, from his first days as a young lad arriving in 1980s Soho, until February 29th, 1988, the greatest night of his life. For this was the day he had been told he would die of the ‘gay plague’ with which he had been diagnosed in 1984. This is no ordinary story, and, as Jack listens intently, he changes as a person forever.

Cruise first opened in May 2021 and the reviews at the time did not hold back on praising the show. Positive descriptors, along with 4 and 5-star summaries were thrown about like confetti, with Olivier nominations following hot on the heels of everything else. I did see it on that first run and was totally blown away by every aspect of the show. I’m unbelievably pleased to say that 15 months on, Cruise is still as fantastic as it was the first time I saw it.

So much of the success of the show is down to the skill of Jack Holden who not only performs the show but also wrote it. Jack manages to paint a picture of 1980s Soho and the characters living there with such clarity and detail, you feel that you are really there, revelling in that period from decriminalisation and into the onset of the AIDS epidemic, and its devastating aftermath for the gay community. Considering the potential for Cruise to be a very heavy, downbeat play, it is surprisingly funny, lively, and totally compelling.

Cruise is a one-man show but Jack fills the stage with highly individual and identifiable people. From the main protagonist Michael through to my own personal favourite Polari Gerald, via a tired and cynical RVT drag queen, a sympathetic barmaid and a music producer who becomes a god-like figure behind the decks at Heaven. Each one is there for you the audience to meet and appreciate. I personally believe that Holden could perform the play on an empty stage with no lights, music, etc, and it would still be an amazing show.

Luckily, he doesn’t have to do it and has music composer and sound designer John Patrick Elliott on stage, which along with Nik Corrall’s evocative set and costume are used by Director Bronagh Lagan to add an extra level of realism to the story.

To sum up. My companion Lynne told me as we left the theatre that I had to give Cruise five stars and, while she isn’t always right, this time I totally agree with her. I honestly cannot state how much Cruise blew me away and I don’t think there are enough superlatives to express my thoughts on it. Cruise is at the Apollo until September 4th – proving that there is still awesome theatre in London during August (who needs Edinburgh?) – and believe me, this is one show where you will definitely be kicking yourself if you fail to bag yourself a ticket before it goes.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

CRUISE is the true story of what should have been Michael Spencer’s last night on Earth.

When Michael is diagnosed with HIV in 1984, he’s told he’ll have four years to live. So, with the clock ticking, he and his partner, Dave, decide to sell their house, flog the car, spend everything they have and party like it’s the last days of Rome.

On the last night of his four year countdown – the 29th February, 1988 – Michael decides to go out with a bang. He puts on his favourite jacket, heads for Soho, and embarks on a long night of farewells. He dances, sings, and says yes to everything and everyone. Then, with all his affairs taken care of, Michael promptly… survives.

Apollo Theatre, London
Booking to 4th September 2021

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