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Cruise at the Duchess Theatre: ‘Holden is a remarkable tour de force…’

It’s the sort of production that will probably consider itself to have done well if it has encouraged people in their audiences to open up – not necessarily to the Switchboard LGBT+ helpline, which features heavily in Cruise, but to any appropriate channel that can help them offload their experiences and tell their story. I made the error of judging a show by the front cover of its programme: determining it to be a one-man show, it is at the very least a two-man show, with composer John Elliott on stage alongside Jack Holden, and of course there is an entire creative team and a production team that have come together to make it all happen.

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

Based on Holden’s experiences of being a Switchboard volunteer as an even younger man than he is now, Michael, a middle-aged caller, has his story dramatized through a soundscape that emulates the music of the era – that is, for those who frequented Old Compton Street and places in Soho in the late Eighties – as well as lighting that portrays nightclubs, the street, and indeed the Switchboard helpline offices. The show is, perhaps necessarily, highly energetic: Holden voices a large number of characters, all part of Michael’s narrative – it is easy to forget that there isn’t a whole company of actors on stage.

No prior knowledge of the era is required as all is tactfully explained in a briskly-paced script that is both poetic and meticulously researched. There is some relatability, too, to more modern times: a large number of deaths were occurring from something from which there was no effective course of treatment, and there was a considerable amount of fear, some of which was being perpetrated by the media. There were hospital admissions and funeral services, and so the show runs through a comprehensive range of human emotions, from sheer tragedy to the euphoria that comes from a combination of recreational drugs and a night out in central London.

I did not, I hasten to add, find the experience exhausting – this isn’t the first show to hit the London theatre scene exploring the Aids crisis and its effects – but unlike Angels in America and The Inheritance, this one is done and dusted in ninety minutes. One could also argue that there’s nothing new about a theatre production encouraging people to live in the moment and make each day count. The story told is unlikely to be an entirely factual account (not that it isn’t credible, rather that it would be a very serious breach of confidentiality if it is all true). With the Channel 4 Television series, It’s A Sin still in people’s memories, this production is a sharply perceptive take on events already an entire generation ago.

There’s singing, there’s dancing, there are housemates who don’t get on as well as they could. The rapport Holden has with the audience is remarkable, and at least on the night I attended, the performance received a well-deserved standing ovation. It’s not perfect – flitting between 2021 and 1988 started to grate after a while – but Holden is a remarkable tour de force in this witty and absorbing production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Aria Entertainment and Lambert Jackson are thrilled to announce that the world premiere of CRUISE runs through to 13th June 2021 with a press night on 20th May. Written and performed by Jack Holden (War Horse, West End; Ink, Almeida Theatre), CRUISE is an urgent, moving and inspirational new play with live music and spoken word.

CRUISE at the Duchess TheatreBased on a true story Jack was told whilst volunteering for Switchboard, the LGBTQ+ Listening Service, this new play pays tribute to a generation decimated by HIV and AIDs.

Produced by Aria Entertainment and Lambert Jackson.
Written By and Starring Jack Holden

Music And Sound Design by John Elliott
Director – Bronagh Lagan
Design – Nik Corrall
Co-Designer – STUFISH
Lighting Designer – Jai Morjaria
Movement – Sarah Golding
Additional Sound Design – Max Pappenheim
General Management and Assistant Producer – Chris Matanlé for Aria Entertainment

Duchess Theatre
3-5 Catherine St, Covent Garden, London WC2B 5LA
18 May – 13 June
Tuesday – Friday 8pm
Saturdays at 3pm & 8pm
Sundays at 3pm & 6pm
Press night: 20 May at 8pm
Book Tickets from www.cruisetheplay.co.uk/


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