Review: CRUISE at Homecoming Centre Is Poignant, Relevant and Powerful

The South African run of this show is the first time CRUISE has been performed outside the UK.

'THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL Star Belinda Davids Returns To Joburg Theatre

CRUISE, originally written and performed by Jack Holden, was one of the first plays to open after the COVID-19 lockdown in London, after which it moved to the West End, garnering an Olivier Award nomination for Best New Play. After wowing audiences in Johannesburg during its December run in 2022, CRUISE, has now made its Cape Town debut. If the South African run is anything to go by, the Olivier Award nomination for the English run was certainly deserved.

Executive Producer Colin Law has brought CRUISE to South Africa as the first of three plays that will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the year that HIV/AIDS was first documented on the African continent. This part of history is as relevant as ever after the COVID-19 pandemic and there is a catharsis in observing such a play in the years proceeding 2020.

The play opens in present day England where we meet Jack, a 22-year-old who begins a new job at an LGBTQ+ hotline for queer individuals to reach out for support. On one of his first solo shifts, Jack receives a call via the hotline from Michael, a man who was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1984, and who had limited time to live.

We then see much of the action through Jack's eyes, or, rather, we hear it through Jack's ears, as we sit in on this deeply intimate telephone call which in turn transports us to Michael's world: to bustling Soho, London at the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 1980s.

'THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL Star Belinda Davids Returns To Joburg TheatreThe superbly talented Daniel Geddes is superb in this one-person show. He seamlessly transforms into a colourful array of characters (probably around a dozen or so), managing to make each one distinctive. Somehow, while Geddes remains in the same t-shirt and jeans (and sometimes a jacket) for the entirety of the production, he manages to morph into what looks like a completely different person each time he becomes a different character. His physical characterisation, his accent, the tones of his voice, and the way he carries himself make it seem as though Geddes is a blank canvas and each time we encounter a different character, his portrayal is so convincing that it coaxes the brain into seeing a different face and a different person.

His boundless energy is staggering - not once does Geddes falter or hesitate. He lives the material and makes each character (regardless of the stage time they receive) believable and real. He is adept at making each character three dimensional - there are no stereotypes here and his characterisations are filled with subtleties. His accents, too, are a highlight. Some of my favourite performances include Fat Sandy the New York Queen as well as Gordon, a kind, unexpected new friend who provides sandwiches when Michael's world unexpectedly falls apart.

Geddes is not just a versatile actor, playing characters from 18-year-old boys to elderly women draped in luxurious fox-fur coats. He also has a stunning singing voice, which he unleashes three times during the show, giving the audience a treat. For this production, Geddes deserves the highest accolades, and more than proves himself as a versatile, truly outstanding performer.

'THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL Star Belinda Davids Returns To Joburg TheatreIn light of the world's most recent pandemic, this production is more relevant than ever. It is highly poignant. Often the audience roars with laughter as Geddes hits bullseyes with his excellent comedic timing and with Jack Holden's sharp script. At other times, the theatre is absolutely silent, in reverence for the devastation on stage. Of course, a thread throughout this play is that of loss: the hopelessness and the helplessness in losing so many friends, family members, lovers, acquaintances, housemates, neighbours, and colleagues to an invisible threat. Whether it is COVID or AIDS, this audience is sadly familiar with the randomness of these viruses and with the trauma that accompanies having to make sense of something which is inherently lacking in any.

One of the scenes that hit me the hardest is one which takes place in a movie theatre in which David and Michael watch Top Gun. Geddes switches between acting out relevant sections of the film while returning to Michael's reality within the theatre. It is phenomenal and the intensity of that scene will stay with me for a long time.

Alongside Geddes, other role-players must be mentioned. Jane Gosnell's lighting design is superb. Always atmospheric and managing to conjure up different venues purely by the type of ambience created, this lighting takes us places. At times it is chaotic and at others it is subtle and subdued. I was wowed by a scene at the end in which it looks as though Geddes himself is a ball of light, with bright streams emanating from all around him. This combined with John Patrick Elliot's original music really adds to the journey on which this play takes us.

'THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL Star Belinda Davids Returns To Joburg TheatreLikewise, Wilhelm Disbergen's innovative set, consisting of three complex panels with multiple cut-outs, allows for versatile locations and provides us the flexibility to imagine and to fill in the details of the many locales in which the characters find themselves. It works so well and can morph into the streets of Soho just as easily as it does into the call centre.

Director Josh Lindberg has done a superb job of executing this magnificent piece of theatre. It is humbling, hilarious, devastating, hopeful and ultimately human. Do not miss it.

CRUISE runs at the Avalon Theatre in the Homecoming Centre (formerly the Fugard) from Wednesday 12 April to 30 April 2023. Tickets are R195 and can be purchased via Quicket.

Photo credit: Odette Putzier


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