Jack Holden’s exceptional Cruise returns to the West End at the Apollo Theatre and proves I was stupid to miss it the first time round
“Actually, I think I was born in the wrong era”
The weeks after lockdown ended and theatres began to reopen were a tricky time to review theatre. The sheer relief that the industry had survived in some shape or form, and the pleasure of getting to book into shows again, was undeniable but at the same time, there was – perhaps understandably – little appetite for actual critical appraisals, hence excitement for David Hare and five star reviews for Cinderella…
All of which is a long-winded way to say I didn’t book for Cruise first time around because I didn’t believe the hype for one of the first shows to open once restrictions had been lifted. And more fool me as the show’s return – now remounted at the Apollo Theatre – proves that it is a corking piece of theatre, anchored by a rather astonishing performance from Jack Holden – sometimes that hype is justified!
Cruise is a love letter to 1980s Soho, the hedonistic pleasures it offered to gay men and the succour it provided as an unnamed pandemic ravaged the community, later to be named as HIV/AIDS. Parallels between the similar but different lockdowns are loosely drawn but the focus is on the story of Michael’s journey of exploring his identity by giving it a good and proper sexual awakening up and down Old Compton Street and beyond.
Holden thus inhabits a wide range of saucy types and does so with consummate skill. Michael, his partner ‘Slutty Dave’, drag queen Jackie Shit, scene stalwart Polari Gordon, the characters here are just marvellous. Full of life until they’re not. The sensitivity with which Holden portrays the way in which so many men were lost is exquisitely done, and he pays fine tribute to them by showing how they were taken too, the ravages of the disease as much a tragedy as its results.
Bronagh Lagan’s finely tuned direction allows Holden to playfully move through Nik Corrall’s industrially functional set. And the inclusion of composer John Patrick Elliott onstage allows for the energy of his pulsing score to captivate with its liveness. Holden adds snatches of songs and frames the show beautifully with a personal intervention based on his own experience at LGBT+ phone helpline Switchboard. Powerful, poetic, political, pretty damn well near perfect.