Cruise review – Duchess Theatre

Jack Holden in Cruise (Photo: Pamela Raith)

As the West End comes out of hibernation, among the first new plays to emerge blinking into the light is this beautifully crafted one-man show about the devastating effect of HIV/AIDS on the gay scene in 1980s Soho.

Written and performed by Jack Holden, the play uses the framing device of a phone call to an LGBTQ+ helpline to tell the story of Michael Spencer, who is told he has four years to live after being diagnosed with HIV in 1984.

Michael’s odyssey through the pubs, clubs and house parties of Soho brings us into contact with an array of characters – among them the fur-clad Lady Lennox, Fat Sandy, DJ Fingers and Slutty Dave – all of them brought into vivid existence by Holden with little more than a change of accent or subtle mannerism.

Holden’s performance is sensational. He switches effortlessly from pathetic to energetic, from sleazy to teasing. One moment he’ll be singing or dancing, the next – staring silently at a telephone. For 90 minutes he held me spellbound.

There’s a glorious poetry to the play too. Old Compton Street is likened to a “street of X-rated Narnias”. A drag queen is “250 pounds of hairy-backed femme fatale”. On occasions it slips into rhyming couplets. All this backed with a throbbing 80s-infused electronic score played live on stage by John Elliott.

I’ll be shocked if this doesn’t win awards.

Cruise is at the Duchess Theatre until 13 June

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