Friday, March 1

CRUISE – Duchess Theatre

Having reviewed the online stream of CRUISE during the last lockdown back in April, I was super excited to see how this intimate piece would translate from the screen to the stage, and believe me it did not disappoint.

CRUISE is a lyrical celebration of queer culture, a musical and spoken word tribute to the veterans of the AIDS crisis written and performed by Jack Holden. In every way it is a perfectly crafted piece of queer theatre and whilst the online version was deeply personal in its storytelling, the on the stage narrative hits you with full force square between the eyes. A brilliant, beautiful and yet gut wrenchingly brutal piece of theatre. Poetic. Artistic. Honest. One man’s memory of a horrific period in the gay culture of ‘80s London.

CRUISE is the true story of what should have been Michael Spencer’s last night on earth. Jack is a Gay Switchboard Operator, new to the job and completely naïve to the courageous journey of those that came before him. CRUISE transports the audience through an artistic and hedonistic passage of time. Jack meets Michael on the 34th anniversary of his Partner’s death from AIDS when Michael makes a call into the Switchboard. Jack is completely unprepared, but he is taken on an energetic, musical trek through the ‘80s gay subcultures showing him that although self-destruction is sometimes the most natural thing in the world, we only have moments to live and that it is important therefore to see ourselves reflected in our history to live life to the fullest. Of course, there is no message more powerful or indeed primal than that which shows the need of a human to protect their tribe and this story, told through the eyes of a 30-year-old Jack (Holden) in 2021, is the perfect example of survival, of history, of culture and community.

Pamela Raith Photography

What really translates much more than I had anticipated is the supporting and phenomenally uplifting electronic soundtrack performed live by John Elliot as DJ, Guitarist, Pianist, and all-round musical genius. This was great when streamed online, but when heard live it is impossible not to feel that you have been treated to an expertly curated, eclectic library of music and sounds that captures every combination of visceral emotion and feeling with each track. With Sound Design by Max Pappenheim, the music and sound are a true compliment to Holden’s writing and magically transports the audience to the streets and pumping bars of Soho.

Holden is truly a dynamic and spirited Performer, a master at work. He navigates multiple characters and accents, song and movement with ease and not once did his energy falter. He performs for an hour and a half and it seems he doesn’t once take a breath. The dignity and passion from this guy for the story of his community is palpable. As a Writer he is a Master with witty, realistic, heart-rendering dialogue that captures the imagination and breaks the heart with equal force.

The piece is directed by Bronagh Lagan with phenomenal style and understanding of Holden’s writing and physicality. At no point did the stage direction lose momentum as Jack navigated the ever-moving scenery.

CRUISE is a colourful mosaic of all things creative: theatre, music, art, comedy, dance, and poetry. It exposes loneliness and loss, but also the power of community and membership. It is an inspiration to all of us to live every day as if it is our last, a special story no matter what your background, and a must-see production!

CRUISE runs at the Duchess Theatre until 13th June. For tickets and further info visit

Reviewer: Alan Stuart Malin

Reviewed: 23rd May 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★

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