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Cruise Review: Jack Holden ‘gives a tour de force performance’

Simon Button also writes "Cruise is a stirring, core-shaking piece of work that is by turns uplifting, distressing, comical, caustic, and nostalgic for a bygone era".

By Alastair James

Words: Simon Button; pictures: Pamela Raith Photography 

Praise for Jack Holden’s Cruise was effusive when it premiered at the Duchess Theatre in the West End last year as one of the first productions out of the gate after theatres were allowed to reopen.

National publications hailed it as “life-affirming” and “joyful”, with Attitude’s Alastair James calling it “funny, sobering and heart-warming” in his glowing review.

Jack Holden and John Patrick Elliot (Photo: Pamela Raith Photography)

Alastair was right. Returning to the West End for a limited season at the bigger Apollo Theatre, Cruise is a stirring, core-shaking piece of work that is by turns uplifting, distressing, comical, caustic, and nostalgic for a bygone era when London’s gay scene had a thrilling air of danger to it and mournful about how Aids mercilessly tore its way through the community.

And author Holden gives a tour de force performance in what is essentially a one-man show except for musician John Patrick Elliott, who performs the pulsating electronic score live on stage as Jack himself takes on a dizzying array of characters.

Jack Holden (Photo: Pamela Raith Photography)

The chief protagonist in this Soho-set story is a man named Michael, who is telling his story to a phone-manning younger version of Jack at the LGBT+ Switchboard helpline.

A party animal, Michael is diagnosed with HIV in 1984 and told he has four years left to live at most. So he and his partner Dave (known as ‘Slutty Dave’ on the scene) decide to go out in a hedonistic whirl, selling the house and car so they can party their tits off.

Jack Holden (Photo: Pamela Raith Photography)

Never leaving the stage for an interval-less 90 minutes, Holden is mesmerising. He plays Michael, ‘Slutty Dave’, the switchboard operator and his colleagues, an aging drag queen called ‘Jackie Shit’, and a scene queen called ‘Polari Gordon’ who speaks the coded language as he props up the bar.

The actor also gives an intensely physical performance – climbing ladders, perching on scaffolding, binding himself in cables, dancing in the throes of Ecstasy, stalking every inch of the set, and falling exhaustedly to the floor. His stamina is simply astounding.

Jack Holden and John Patrick Elliott (Photo: Pamela Raith Photography)

In his early 30s and basing the play on his own experiences of working at Switchboard, Jack has thoroughly researched 1980s Soho, referencing such long-gone haunts as Brief Encounter and those still-standing like the Admiral Duncan, and his script is a deeply-felt eulogy for the countless lives lost to Aids.

There are parallels to current times, of course, except that Covid isn’t an automatic death sentence the way HIV was in the beginning, plus vaccines for the latter were developed at lightning speed.

Jack Holden (Photo: Pamela Raith Photography)

But Cruise isn’t mired in tragedy and despair. There are moments that tear at the heart but it’s also screamingly funny and a celebration of lives lived to the full, however long they may have lasted.

Nominated for an award for Best New Play at this year’s Oliviers, it should have won.

Rating: 5/5

Cruise is at the Apollo Theatre until 4 September. For more information visit and for great deals on tickets and shows click here.