Last Updated on May 25, 2021 by Fiona Maclean
A slice of Soho’s hedonistic gay scene in the 1980s
With theatre’s gradual reopening, I returned to West End for the first time in many months to see Cruise at the Duchess Theatre, part of Nimax’s Rising Stars Festival, a showcase for young producers designed to entice a new audience into the West End. It’s a show that we’d already reviewed when it was screened…but in my mind, there’s nothing quite like live theatre.
Cruise is an inspirational, deeply moving, and at times very witty new play that tells of those who lived and loved during the hedonistic ’80s on Soho’s vibrant gay scene. It’s also a stark reminder of an era in which many young lives were totally devasted by HIV and AIDs, something that this generation hasn’t had to experience in the same terrifying way. This ebullient, yet heart-rendering play is written and performed by Jack Holden (War Horse, West End; Ink, Almeida Theatre) and punchily directed by Bronagh Lagan.
Holden’s performance is bold and captivating as he takes you on an exhilarating and emotional journey through Soho, skilfully navigating a series of eclectic characters, and stumbling through many of London’s iconic gay bars and Soho hotspots whilst experiencing both the joys and pitfalls of being young and gay in the 80s. It is performed with such charm and energy with a mix of narrative and spoken word, and an original upbeat and evocative 80s electronic soundtrack which is performed live by The Little Unsaid’s John Elliott. Nik Corrall’s metal scaffolding set works a treat along with Jai Morjaria’s florescent strobe lighting effects which give a real sense of Soho’s pulsating nightlife.
Holden based Cruise on a true story he heard when he was volunteering for Switchboard, the LGBTQ+ Listening Service when he was just 22 years old. Now just turned 30, playing himself he tells the extraordinary account of Michael Spencer, who along with his partner Dave was diagnosed with HIV in 1984 and told they had just 4 years to live. So, believing the clock was ticking, he and Dave decided to sell everything they owned in order to live their lives to the full. When Dave dies two years later Michael finds himself alone and lost. He goes on to party hard, drowning his sorrows in drink and drugs and dancing and DJing along with his friend Fingers at the famed nightclub Heaven.
Four years to the day after his first diagnosis on the 29th February 1988 Michael is preparing to say his final goodbyes to everyone he has loved and encountered along his journey, he gets his glad rags on and heads to Soho…yet Michael’s story is ultimately one of survival.
This arresting play follows a similar period of history to Russel T. Davies’s recent C4 series of ‘It’s a Sin’, which also documented the London gay scene in the 1980s and how HIV took its shattering grip on a group of friends. Cruise is a powerful ode to one man’s story, which paints a very vivid picture of the times and is well researched by Holden. It’s hard to imagine now, even when we are in the middle of a pandemic what a shameful illness HIV was painted to be and just how many young men lost their lives far too soon. This vicious virus, although still without a cure, is thankfully now much more manageable.
So, whether you are able to remember the 80s (like me) or not, I don’t think you will be disappointed, this is a fabulous night out and a perfect way to return to the West End!
Cruise is showing for a limited season at the Duchess Theatre, London, until 13 June.
3-5 Catherine St,
The live world premiere of the production opened at the Duchess Theatre for 4 weeks only from 18 May – 13 June.
Here’s our roundup of the coming 2021 Summer season at Sadler’s Wells
For tickets and further info visit www.cruisetheplay.co.uk