And we’re back. This dynamic one-man show at the Duchess Theatre, about a gay man on a hedonistic last hurrah in Eighties Soho, kicks off the West End’s gradual reopening. Cruise has more texture, variety and zip than most monologues and features some great music, but also longueurs and mawkish moments. Still, it’s a remarkable achievement for young actor Jack Holden, who wrote the script under lockdown and performs it with vast charm, empathy and energy.
The play covers similar territory to Russell T. Davies’s It’s a Sin but rather less decorously. Here we get the full-on sweaty, smeary, bitchy revelry of the Eighties London gay scene - and the horror as HIV starts to course through it.
The story of Michael - diagnosed positive on February 29, 1984 – and the men he loved and lost is imparted to Jack, a cocky youngster manning a helpline in 2020. Thus Holden is able to present a range of vivid characters, and address the gap in awareness between the generations. It’s underscored by an eclectic soundscape orchestrated onstage by composer John Elliott.
Not all of the script rings true, including Michael’s belief that the fourth anniversary of his diagnosis would be his last night alive, based on a vague notion that nobody lived much beyond that. The self-consciously poetic passages are unwise. But there’s a wealth of detail about what London’s seedier square mile was like three decades ago, and how swiftly the faces, the pleasures, the music and the drugs changed. Parallels with the current crisis are deftly handled.
Most importantly, at the centre of Bronagh Lagan’s production is Holden himself, riffling through different personas as if through a deck of cards, singing quite beautifully, dancing like a loon. He establishes a potent rapport with the audience. And it’s that, the magic connection between onlooker and performer, that we’ve really missed for most of the past 14 months. What a delight to be out and in a theatre again, sharing that sensation with a room full of strangers.
To June 13: cruisetheplay.co.uk