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Review: CRUISE, Apollo Theatre

Review: CRUISE, Apollo Theatre

Jack Holden's profound, vividly descriptive, and historically relevant memorial to the victims and survivors of the 1980s AIDS crisis is back in the West End.

Review: CRUISE, Apollo Theatre

After a stellar outing last year and a nomination for Best New Play at the Olivier Awards, Jack Holden's buzzing tale of a long-lost - but never forgotten - gay London is back with a smirk and a tear for a limited engagement in the West End.

Holden plays a 22-year-old version of himself volunteering at Switchboard - an LGBTQ+ helpline. Showing up still hungover and anxious to his shift and finding himself alone and unsupervised, he answers a call that will change his life.

From the other end of the line, Michael transports him to the streets of 80s Soho in the run-up to what should have been his last night on Earth. As the middle-aged gentleman details the exploits of a bygone world and tells him about his frenzied adieu au monde, Jack sits and learns.

Diagnosed with HIV in 1984, only a few gritty, hedonistic years after moving to the capital, Michael is seemingly given a death sentence - as it was for many at the time. When the 4th anniversary of his diagnosis comes around, Michael is ready to go out in style.

But after saying goodbye to friends and strangers alike in a grand tour of all his queer haunts in Soho, Michael survives and life goes on. Based on true stories, Cruise is already a modern classic. With never-ending energy and sheer talent, Holden writes a profound, vividly descriptive, and historically relevant memorial to the victims and survivors of the 1980s AIDS crisis.

"It wasn't like it is today" Holden says as he takes his audience to an Old Compton Street where a series of closed doors hid sexual freedom - a drastically different view from our contemporary out-and-proud attitude. He is an elastic, magnetic performer.

Slipping in and out of timelines and characters, he delivers a line-up of colourful figures with mesmerisingly distinct personalities and then sobers up as Jack, mouth gaping and eyes wide. From the landlady who exchanged a year's rent for a drink and the promise of two chats per day to the Nymphs of Greek Street, from Michael's loving boyfriend Dave to Fingers, his friend and employer at the recording studio.

The perfectly well-rounded performance sees Holden juggling tonal changes seamlessly alongside poetry and songs accompanied by John Patrick Elliott. The latter mixes the score as an involved presence high up on stage, turning the music into as much of a protagonist as Holden's entourage and giving the show a sharp, steady, egging rhythm.

Directed by Bronagh Lagan, it's impossible to pigeonhole Cruise into a static genre. Comedy and tragedy blend together in an unforgettable piece of queer history. We go from the thumping clubs of Soho to well-attended funerals in a lifelike picture. The names spoken on Nik Corrall's revolving, industrial-looking and neon-clad set join the friends and families of those in the crowd.

Born out of the depths of the first lockdown and the first new play to reopen the post-pandemic West End landscape in 2021, Cruise is a gem. It's a testament to the resilience of the LGBTQ+ community and a powerful celebration of the generation we're endlessly thankful for. "There's luck in getting older" Holden says at the end. Now we know it too.

Cruise runs at the Apollo Theatre until 4 September.

Photo Credit: Pamela Raith

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From This Author - Cindy Marcolina

Italian export. Member of the Critics' Circle (Drama). Also a script reader and huge supporter of new work. Twitter: @Cindy_Marcolina

... (read more about this author)

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