Updated: Aug 19, 2022
Review by Daz Gale
Following a critically acclaimed limited run last year, Cruise is back in the West End for 3 weeks only. It was one of the first productions to premiere in the West End when theatres first reopened in May 2021, instantly winning critical acclaim and was even nominated for Best New Play at this years Olivier awards. More than that, it was also one of my personal favourite shows of last year. I feel I’ve been on a bit of a journey with this show personally, having reviewed it twice already (both in its original streamed production and the first West End run). With that in mind, I didn’t think I had anything more I could say about this show and last years review would suffice. It turns out, I had no shortage of things to talk about when it came to this latest iteration!
Written by Jack Holden, Cruise is based on a true story he was told when he was volunteering for the LGBTQ+ Listening Service Switchboard. The premise of Cruise sees 22 year old Jack listening to Michael recount his story in the 1980s centred around one big night which he presumed to be the last night of his life.
Set in the 1980s, everything about Cruise is a fitting tribute to that era, bringing to life Soho in the 80s, fittingly now in a theatre in the heart of Soho. While Cruise starts with an introduction to Jack and his inexperience handling what can only be described as “interesting” phone calls, it is when he receives the phone call from Michael that the true theme comes to light. Michaels story centres on his life in the 1980s when he was given the news he had HIV and wouldn’t survive more than four years. What follows is a mix of euphoria and tragedy, culminating in Michaels big night that rightly puts Jacks own 21st Century night to shame.
Shows centred around this theme have a varied degree of success. Following recent West End and Broadway sensation The Inheritance and last years TV series It’s A Sin, Cruise finds new ground to cover, perfectly encapsulating the spirit of the 1980s and in turn providing a fitting tribute to a generation who found themselves not only victimised for who they were but also decimated due to HIV and AIDS. With inevitable comparisons to the recent Covid, which Jack touches upon at the shows climax, and even more recently the misinformation about Monkeypox, Cruise feels even more important and relevant than perhaps it was in its first West End run.
Not only did Jack Holden write Cruise, he also performs the entire show, playing every character through the shows non-stop single act. Showing extreme versatility as an actor, he effortlessly channels the range of weird and wonderful characters both Jack and Michael meet along their journeys, both comedic and serious in turn. Jack not only uses a wide variety of accents but sing in them as well, whether it be karaoke wailing, or a standout when he embodies a Drag Queen performing her number. The acting is part of what makes Cruise so incredibly special, and if Jack was pretty incredible in the role last year, this year he is on a whole other level. The performance feels more urgent this time, with even more emotional depths being tapped into. What I witnessed from jack in this version of Cruise can only be described as one of the single best performances in all my years of theatre-going.
The writing is another exemplary factor in Cruise, with the way the story unfolds utterly captivating to witness. Nothing feels forced with all dialogue and twists described in such a natural way, it at times feels like you are having a private conversation with Jack about it. Clever wordplay and beautiful descriptions keep Cruise at the same consistently flawless level from start to finish.
If the greatest aspect of theatre is how it can speak to your very soul, something in Cruise did that to me last night. There’s a moment near the end of the show where Michael loses his partner, and the speech that he is given afterwards about carrying on was so beautifully written, it spoke to me perhaps more than anything else in theatre has before. Having been going through something myself in the recent week, Cruise gave me the words I needed to hear, and that is another example of just why theatre is so vital not just for enjoyment but also for wellbeing.
Sound and music is important to the story of Cruise. Jack is joined by John Patrick Elliott on stage performing several instruments and giving a presence that only adds to the story, bringing the 80s feel to the forefront. The production this year feels much bigger (and dare I say even better) than last years initial West End run with fantastic set design from Nik Corrall now even grander in scale, giving more scope for Jack to play with in the story. With perfect direction from Bronagh Lagan, the stage is transformed into both the office Jack works in and the pulsing scene of 1980s Soho. Intense lighting from Prema Mehta was suitably blinding as it adapted to the changing story with some clever tricks, while the new addition of projection design added something extra to the production.
It is no secret that I love Cruise. But if I loved it before, this latest version is something different altogether. They have taken something that was already pretty special and turned it into an absolute masterpiece. Incredibly written and with one of the best performances you will ever see from Jack Holden, who is destined to become an absolute star, Cruise really is one of the greatest shows you will see, not just this year but potentially ever. This is the kind of the show that deserves to be seen by the masses - let's hope there is more life for it on stage after this, though there is definitely a bright future for Cruise with the programme teasing a feature film in development.
Last year I called Cruise Raw, euphoric and poignant. I stand by that statement but this time will add Flawless to the mix. Not just bigger than last years production but markedly better, Cruise takes you on an emotional journey with the ability to make you laugh and cry within moments of each other. An incredibly powerful piece, Cruise really is theatre at its very best and an absolute must-see.
Cruise plays at the Apollo Theatre until September 4th. Tickets from https://cruisetheplay.co.uk/
Photos by Pamela Raith