Electric, animated, compelling. These are some of the many words that I could use to describe Jack Holden’s Cruise, directed by Bronagh Lagan. Holden’s words and performance contain so much meaning and emotion in them that all I could do as a reviewer was sit, listen and try to absorb as much as I could. Because this show is an experience in itself.
There’s a magic, an otherworldliness that is created, making this show extremely hard to shake it off once it ends
Set during a shift at the LGBTQ+ charity, Switchboard, Cruise is a collection of stories told from the perspective of Michael (Jack Holden) as he navigates the clubs and nightlife of 1980s Soho and the people who he meets along the way that help him to cope with love and loss, culminating in his self-declared ‘last night on Earth’. Switching between past and present, Holden grounds us in the story, making sure we are able to distinguish between the two.
Between Prema Mehta’s lighting and John Patrick Elliott’s sound design, a Williams-esque dream landscape is created, from neon lights that would normally fit anywhere else but a stage, but look right at home in Mehta’s design; to the synth beats and live music that create a backdrop and beat to Holden’s narrative. The industrial feeling of the neon and otherwordliness of the music create a dichotomy that emphasise some of the more emotional and powerful moments, of which there are many.
Holden’s words and performance is unbelievable. Filled with intense highs and intense lows, there is a certain wryness and humour throughout, even in the saddest moments. Holden uses every literary tool at his disposal, his mastery of language only rivalling that of Shakespeare. He’s a natural storyteller, seen in the way that he creates an incredibly rich world for us, filled with places and characters that take on their own appearance, quirks and personalities, that it’s hard to believe that it’s not just Holden up on the stage. It’s intensely spectacular the way Holden manages to play on our emotions, evoking extreme pathos in the simplest of lines or moments. He has a boundless, restless energy, which we can see as he takes on the immense physical task of the performance, from the endless movement to climbing different parts of Nik Corrall’s set as he takes us into the heart of 1980s Soho from thin air.
Cruise is frankly unbelievable. There’s a magic, an otherworldliness that is created, making this show extremely hard to shake it off once it ends. An Angels in America for a new age, Cruise is most definitely one of the best pieces of theatre that I have had the honour to watch.