After two crowd-pleasing West End runs, this vibrant, gritty HIV-based drama journeys outside London for its first time.
Through a tell-all phone call to Switchboard answered by the young and inexperienced Jack, Michael recounts his supposed final years in London following a HIV diagnosis that gave him 4 years left to live.
Jack Holden imbues the piece with wholehearted zest as he bounces, climbs and dances around Nik Corrall’s versatile industrial set. Capably taking on all roles- that’s some thirty characters, though a few may be surplus to requirement- Holden never wavers, captivating the audience with his energy alone.
This is by no means a one-show, though: on-stage music producer John Patrick Elliott supplies an intense electronic score, the beats, tunes and synth of which transports you right to the epicentre of each scene. Dazzling lighting also pumps up the party atmosphere, evoking snapshots of psychedelic nightlife.
There are many stories addressing the AIDS crisis and its desolation across several platforms: The Normal Heart on-stage and, more recently, It’s a Sin on-screen. By not shining more of a light on Switchboard’s importance to the LGBTQ+ community, particularly during the epidemic, Cruise misses an opportunity to contribute something new to these narratives. Interactions involving the phone line come across as moments where the truth is being stretched the most.
Holden’s script is nonetheless markedly well-researched, capturing the essence of 1980s gay Soho through a range of voices, from the party-loving “nymphs” to a Polari-speaking cottager. It serves as an admirable tribute to victims- and survivors.
Light humour further heartens the production, as do segments of singing, though the latter are not designed to further the plot. Some of the conversations that take place are elongated; trimming them here and there would give Cruise’s flow some much-needed acceleration, especially during the mid-way point.
A stirring, compassionate wonder.
Cruise continues at HOME, Manchester until 12th August with tickets available from https://homemcr.org/production/cruise/
Reviewer: Scot Cunningham
Reviewed: 25th July 2023
North West End UK Rating: