Jack Holden gives a world-class masterclass in storytelling and absolutely owns Apollo Theatre’s stage during this 80’s life-and-death monologue.
An ambitious feat at Apollo Theatre
Apollo Theatre is such a majestic, elevated venue. With its velvet seats, red and gold bas-reliefs, and a hand-painted ceiling with a moon and stars, it’s not easy for actors to take over and fill the stage and auditorium with their presence. But with “Cruise”, Jack Holden dominates the space and succeeds at every single piece of his monologue.
Even though he is not alone on the stage – he shares it with John Patrick Elliot, the music composer, and performer, who delivers a creative, foot-tapping, pulsating score. Still, it’s Holden’s voice, multiple characters he steps into, energetic moves, and disarming honesty that make “Cruise” the shining pearl of monologues that it is.
Story heard through the hotline call
Holden’s story is a mix of memories – real and imagined – from his friends, strangers, books, and his own time spent volunteering at Switchboard – the LGBTQ+ helpline. It’s a story within a story and Holden effortlessly jumps between characters and timelines. One of the main stories is that of Michael, a middle-aged gay man who calls the Switchboard line on the anniversary of his partner’s death. He shares his life’s story, the hedonistic vibe of Soho in the ’80s, and the epic parties. But eventually, the story takes a sad turn as the AIDS epidemic starts showing and we follow Michael to the funerals of friends and acquaintances. When Michael and his partner receive the dreaded news and are given 4 years to live, new thoughts and ideas on how to live this time emerge…
Welcome to Soho
The stage design is clever – it plays to the tune of Soho’s bright neons, but its simple construction of metal bars hides a couple of surprises. The revolving stage transforms the place in seconds, from an NGO call center, through a pub or club, into a public toilet. Holden uses an array of props, that help to keep his stage movement constant – there are just a couple of short moments when he sits still, and the rest of the show is a showcase of brilliant movement that fills up the stage to the brim.
I found myself having chills at certain moments of the show. The scene in the cinema made me just break emotionally (no spoilers, but it’s an unforgettable, sad moment). At other times, Jack’s performance brings the “happy chills”, especially when he sings – I mean, where did he hide this voice? Incredible.
What proves the show’s quality is the live audience’s response to it. In the Apollo Theatre, I was surrounded by viewers of all ages, with many of them representing the LGBTQ+ community. The generation which potentially could remember the ’80s from their own experiences was reacting lively to what they saw on stage, with nods, loud “hmmm” confirmations, and enthusiastic post-show conversations. It seems like Holden was able to bring back the feelings and mood of the Soho ’80s but also make it relatable to viewers like me, who haven’t even been alive back then. A gem of a play!
CRUISE THE PLAY
Produced by Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment and Lambert Jackson
Playing Field and Peak Productions LTD
Written By and Performed by Jack Holden
Music And Sound Design by John Elliott
Director: Bronagh Lagan