Aria Entertainment and Lambert Jackson Productions have joined forces to present a new play Cruise. Both production companies have been responsible for bringing virtual productions to audiences consistently over the last twelve months so it's fitting that their first joint venture is a production that receives an online premiere one month before opening in the West End for a limited run.
Cruise is written by Jack Holden and is based on a true story he experienced when he was a volunteer for the LGBTQ+ Listening Service "Switchboard". The story crosses elements from the 2010s and the 1980s and touches on themes of gay history. The recent success of TV series It's A Sin has opened up a conversation about HIV and AIDS for a new generation who may not have been aware - Cruise uses this profile and builds on it exponentially.
The star of the show is Jack Holden. As well as writing it, he performs every role in the show himself - seamlessly moving to his past self to caller Michael whose story unfolds before her eyes as well as playing a whole host of supporting characters covering all of Jack and Michaels acquaintances. Clearly defined characters who are more than just one-note, tokens or stereotypes is no mean feat but Jack plays them all with relish. Jack shows his versatility as a performer, remaining utterly captivating from start to finish.
The story itself takes you on a wave of emotions. Through Jacks naivety to Michaels awakening, love, heartbreak and tragedy, Cruise feels somewhat immersive as you always feel like you are there and part of the action, thanks to the brilliant method of storytelling on hand and the performance from Holden. Telling the story of what should have been Michaels last night on Earth after being diagnosed with HIV, Cruise delves into an era that still has misconceptions surrounding it and is ultimately filled with heavy loss, the seriousness of the topic on hand is played out with the sensitivity and sincerity that it deserves - any humorous moments in the show make it clear you are laughing with them and not at them.
The use of space throughout is fantastic as Jack moves from one location to another. Expertly directed by Bronagh Lagan, fantastic lighting and camera work makes what could be fairly sparse and samey looking space all get their own sense of identity. Moments where Michael feels disoriented are mirrored in the filming, giving another nod to the immersive feel of this production. It will be interesting to see how the movement from one space to another is recreated on stage when it hits the West End, though the language used throughout the piece will have no trouble painting the scene.
The dialogue used throughout is another highlight of Cruise. Clever and witty at times but brutally real, it often switches into rhyming verse sporadically throughout the piece. The theme of one generation in the LGBTQ+ community learning about another evokes memories of The Inheritance - another incredible powerful piece of theatre. Like that show, Cruise too highlights the importance of knowing where you came from and who came before you in order to truly appreciate the freedoms and privileges you may take for granted.
While this is a play, music is always prominent throughout - whether it be in the background or Jack grabbing the microphone to perform excepts from a few classics. With music and sound design from John Elliot, he is the only other person we see in Cruise other than Jack. Fans of 80s music will love the songs used - all of which add an extra element to the production.
Through Michaels story, we see Jack grow up in a short space of time. This situation was clearly the making of the man and led to the creation of this show. For that, we must all be thankful. Cruise is an absolute revelation - beautifully filmed, wonderfully written and incredibly performed. A celebration of queer culture and a fitting tribute to an era filled with so much loss, this show will make you laugh, make you cry and keep you enthralled through all 95 minutes. To say this is a must see would be an understatement. Stream it or see it when it comes to the West End - either way, watch it - you won't regret it.