Cruise

“The play is informative and embodies the spirit of the community at the fore front of the story"

Nominated in 2022 for Best New Play at the prestigious Olivier Awards, Cruise has arrived in Manchester for a strictly limited season after wowing London’s West End audiences last summer. Originally debuting as an online stream in lockdown, the play has continued to be developed and now receives its regional premiere at HOME.

Performed and created by Jack Holden, Cruise is based on a true story of what should have been Michael Spencer’s last night on Earth. A young gay man diagnosed with HIV in 1984 is given nothing but a few years to live. Jack volunteered at one of the oldest LGBTQ+ helplines ‘Switchboard’ where he learned of Michael’s story which inspired the play.

Billed as an ‘almost’ one man show, Holden embodies every character in Michael’s story as he narrates the story to us as a timeline of events. Portraying Michael, his lover ‘Slutty Dave’ and around 28 other characters, we are taken on an amusing, if heart-breaking sequence of events . Holden has perfected the characterisation of each of the wonderful bunch of misfits we meet and demonstrates a clear portrayal of each whilst we are able to differentiate between them seamlessly. His acting versatility bounding from one character to the next, with different mannerisms and regional dialects, is astounding.  Displaying erratic but controlled emotions, his talent has audience members crying and laughing with his genius one liners making light of horrific circumstances. It’s clear that this piece is Holden’s work and doesn’t require actors to play the other characters. Holden plays them with the sincerity needed as he experienced the story first hand and leaves everything on stage.

Joining Holden on stage throughout the piece is John Patrick Elliot. Integral to the authenticity of the piece, Elliot’s musical contribution to this story doesn’t go unnoticed. Composed and performed by the man himself, it is a key component to the show and whilst not always the main focal point visually on stage, Elliot’s thumping 80’s inspired beats transports us from club to club at the heart of the dance floors in Soho’s notorious gay scene. Elliot is prevalent on stage on a high riser playing a variety of musical instruments and joins Holden on the main stage at points to play guitar. Again, not taking anything away from the fast paced story, Elliot compliments Holden well whilst he belts out a drag queen’s rendition of Always On My Mind by Elvis Presley. Holden’s live vocals are surprising and impactful.

The stage set up is compact with an industrial aesthetic. The play opens in the switchboard office as Holden takes calls for the helpline. It’s not long until we are travelling with Jack from location to location using a series of doors and a revolve to depict venues around London. Direction by Bronagh Logan is simple, clear and effective in directing the audience to the next scene or character’s story. Holden makes use of every inch of the vast stage. Props are sparse and rightly so as the story is the main focal point. The script is extremely descriptive almost as if we are being read the book and every emotion is throughly described and emoted through dialogue and movement. As the piece progresses it’s clear that nothing else is needed as Holden’s acting goes above and beyond in the telling of the story.

The lighting design by Prema Mehta is breathtaking. Intimate moments allow Holden to draw the audience in to the enthralling story whilst sharp powerful bursts of colourful neon lights impact the stage and enhances the believability of the story. The dramatic contrasting in lighting compliments the story and staging superbly adding yet another layer to the play.

Cruise is a show like no other. Many LGBTQ+ stories have been told on stage but perhaps none quite like this. In a modern day society Cruise highlights generational differences and educates a young Jack about those who have come before him. The play is informative and embodies the spirit of the community at the fore front of the story. It takes audience members back to a time where they may remember the ‘gay plague’ and teaches those who may know very little about the time. At the heart of the show is the incredible script. Add to that the striking lighting design, an 80’s synth pulsating soundtrack and exemplary story telling, Cruise is one of the best plays you could ever see.
 

This show was reviewed on the 25th July.  Cruise runs at HOME in Manchester until the 12th August 2023.  Tickets available here: Cruise - HOME (homemcr.org)

Review written by Jordan Potts

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Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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