Theatre is back! Following a year where the doors remained closed and 5 months since the last time we were able to venture into any theatre, the first venues have reopened with a range of new and established shows. What better way to reintroduce yourself to live theatre than with one of the streaming highlights during lockdown?
Cruise debuted online last month - a one man show written and performed by Jack Holden, the stream well and truly blew me away (For comparison, this is my original ★★★★★ review) so I was keen to see how it would translate to the stage. Would it lose anything from the near perfect filmed version or could it defy the odds and be even better in the flesh?
Cruise is based on a true story Jack experienced himself when he was volunteering for the LGBTQ+ phone line "switchboard". It was there he had a phonecall from Michael who told him his own story leading up to what he believed would be his last night on Earth. The two timelines are cleverly introduced with comparisons to Jacks own "big night" which pales in comparison to Michaels, as the action flits back between two generations covering the 1980s and the 2010s.
Jack Holden plays every character, from the younger version of himself to Michael to all of the wild and wacky supporting characters we meet along the way. Jack's characterisation is second to none. He shows incredible versatility and believability as he effortlessly has conversations with himself as he plays characters ranging from Lady Lennox, the Nymphs of Greek Street and Slutty Dave. You are never left wondering which character Jack is portraying at any given moment - a testament to his wonderful skills.
I was worried how Cruise might translate to the stage as the use of space in the film, moving from one location to another through a series of doors was one of the leements that made the stream so fantastic. I needn't have worried as what might seem like a fairly simple stage at first glance transforms into a deceptively elaborate production, changing the scene through a revolve as Jack moves from venue to venue. Directed by Bronagh Lagan, simple props such as a tinsel curtain and microphone wires add to the affair, though it is Jack's portrayal which really tells the story, meaning nothing else is needed.
The versatility on hand is signposted by the title of the show itself. With references to cruising, Tom Cruise and the metaphor we discover right at the end of the play, Cruise sets itself up as something that is much deeper than it might appear at face value.
Where Jack Holden's storytelling was exceptional in the stream, he really comes alive in front of an audience, feeding off the awe of every person witnessing how special this show is, and penetrating them with his stares. His performance is so phenomenal, I wouldn't be surprised if he wins himself an Olivier award in the not too distant future - he really is a star in the making.
Cruise marks the West End debut for not only Jack Holden but also for Lambert Jackson Productions and Aria Entertainment - two companies that led the way for the revolutionary way theatre continued in the last year. Through a series of incredible innovations and streaming productions, they were champions of the changing time so it is incredibly fitting that their well deserved West End debuts should come with a show that has transitioned from a stream.
The lighting is another highlight of this production. Designed by Jai Morjaria, it matches the intensity of the dialogue effortlessly transforming from Jack's workplace to an 80s nightclub. Music is essential for this piece and the presence of John Elliott on the stage pulsing away ensures the pace is always accompanied by the right sounds. We are also privileged enough to hear a bit of singing as Jack performs excerpts of songs with a stunning voice.
The theme of a generation of gay men in the 1980s being ravaged by the HIV and AIDS epidemic has been done before, but has been brought to the forefront of more peoples minds recently with the programme 'It's A Sin'. Cruise builds on this, bridging the generation gap where younger people may not know the extent of what happens. The way an originally naive Jack is educated on the people who came before him and lost their lives in the process speaks for so many who may not have known too much about it. Michael rattling off a list of names of people he knew who died from HIV towards the end of the show is just as powerful on stage as it was on the stream.
While the subject matter can be dark and there is no doubt that the tragedy at hand will break your heart, Cruise is also full of laugh out loud moments. Through brilliant dialogue - clever, witty and full of genius one liners, its ability to make you laugh moments after making you cry speaks volumes for the power of this show.
An incredibly powerful piece of theatre - if Cruise was a masterpiece when it was streamed last month, it has moved to a whole other level on the stage, coming alive in ways it couldn't do through a screen. Raw, euphoric and poignant, this is an incredible play which not only speaks for the importance of knowing about your own history but for the importance of live thetre. Nothing can compare to the connection you feel when somebody is giving it their all on stage, and with a show as sensational as Cruise, prepare to fall in love with theatre all over again.
Cruise plays at the Duchess Theatre until June 13th. Tickets from https://www.nimaxtheatres.com