Saturday, 17 April 2021

REVIEW: Cruise at Stream.Theatre (Online)

It’s 1988. It’s 2021. It’s the true story of how Michael Spencer experienced the Soho scene in the 80s.

Written and performed by Jack Holden, we are invited into a frenzied world of vibrant characters, shadowy nightlife, and sex and love. We meet Jack at 22 years old, answering the phones for the LGBTQIA+ helpline, Switchboard. From there we are dragged, kicking and screaming, through a soul-thumping story of love and loss, of joy and pain, of time and age.

Holden has penned this production with passion and precision, using his own experiences and the stories of a generation before to create a world that exists in the 80s and the present; performed in the warren of basement spaces under Shoreditch Town Hall. Holden’s use of body and voice (both speaking and his stunning tenor singing) to breathe life into a multitude of eccentric but utterly honest characters, is matched only by his exquisite command of text and language. The dialogue trips effortlessly from narrative to poetry in a way that I have never seen before.

The pounding 80s soundtrack is performed live by the immensely talented and versatile John Elliott. The soundtrack marries brilliantly with Holden’s text and characters and brings an energy that can so often be lacking in a monologued performance. Cruise should never be considered a ‘one-man-show because Elliott brings a dimension that elevates this piece to much more than just words could. Lighting designer, Jai Morjaria, and designer, Nic Corrall, have worked wonders in the hidden depths of Shoreditch. Not only have they transformed basement spaces into a nightclub, a call centre, and the streets in between, but they have also maintained the tough, gritty, and taboo feel to the spaces. What I also loved about the design is that it didn’t hide away or become reduced to naturalism as you may expect from a recorded piece. Instead, the whole production from design to direction revelled in the idea that theatre is a live medium. The visible technical elements only added to the experience of this being a filmed theatre production set in the garish 80s.

Holden’s writing and performance are paired with Elliott’s music under the direction of Bronagh Lagan. The three of them have together created a show that ebbs and flows before ripping you through a whirlwind of dance and energy and spitting you out the other side after a gut-wrenching reality check. And this happens again and again as you follow Holden’s ‘Spencer’ through his journey of self-discovery. I counted only a single scene where the pace and energy fell flat and the action felt like it was losing sight of the story, but that scene passed and Holden’s fire was reignited.

Holden tackles the AIDS crisis of the 1980s brilliantly in a time where channel 4’s It’s A Sin is breaking viewing records and HIV transmission in the UK is at an all-time low. His presence, writing, and performance are unmatched in a show of this scale and I cannot wait to see how this translates to the west-end stage.

To contact Switchboard for confidential information and support for the LGBTQIA+ community on 0300 330 0630 or by visiting

The film Cruise is available until 25 April at Stream.Theatre. The live world premiere of the production will reopen the Duchess Theatre for 4 weeks only from 18 May – 13 June. For tickets and further info visit 

Review by Max Topliss

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: £12

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