Cruise as in looking for sex.
Cruise as in rising ’80s star Tom Cruise, he of the aviator shades and winning grin in hot new Hollywood blockbuster Top Gun.
Cruise as in taking a journey, a passage through life – and death.
Jack Holden’s astonishing one man play packs a lot into an hour and forty minutes. It’s one gay man reaching across time to another, one generation connecting with another. It’s a portrait of gay London in the ’80s – the hedonism, the homophobia, the secret lives and safe havens with blacked out windows, the visits to Heaven and the arrival of HIV and house music.
Holden plays a wide variety of characters – a young gay switchboard volunteer, an ’80s survivor and his once hunky boyfriend, a barmaid, a couple of twinks, a drag queen with a bleak sense of humour, a camp, kindly doorman at the Colony Rooms who enjoys a spot of cottaging.
It’s a powerful performance and a physically demanding one. Holden talks, sings and dances, never pausing for more than a few seconds, making full use of the simple, versatile set with its neon lights and ladders. I kept thinking of Snakes and Ladders – a game in which you can climb all the way to the top and come crashing down with one unlucky move.
The musical score by John Patrick Elliott is superb – evocative without being intrusive, strongly suggestive of the times and feelings portrayed on stage. The dance numbers in particular have an energy that feels equal parts euphoric and elegiac. Which is exactly how it felt to me at the time – the agony and the Ecstasy, broken hearts and happy pills, songs about survival. “First I was afraid, I was petrified”, “there but for the grace of god”, “self preservation is what’s really going on today.”
But this is Holden’s show and he receives a well deserved standing ovation. I laughed, cried and left the theatre barely able to speak. On the way out, I bumped into Neil Bartlett, no stranger to groundbreaking queer performance, and fell weeping into his arms.
“It brought it all back, didn’t it?” he said.
It did – and how. I felt seen. And I doubt I’ll see a more powerful performance this year.
Cruise is at the Apollo Theatre until Sep 4