Review: Cruise, a vivid portrait and homage to love, identity and cruising through trauma- South African staging of Jack Holden’s acclaimed play

Cruise – the play by Jack Holden- South African production

Where and when: The Avalon atThe Homecoming Centre– April 12-30, 2023
Performer: Daniel Geddes
Director: Josh Lindberg
Music: John Patrick Elliott
Set design: Wilhelm Disbergen
Lighting design: Jane Gosnell

UK actor Jack Holden’s one-person play, Cruise received rapturous reviews in the UK and was nominated for The Oliver Award for Best New Play [2022]. The South African production, directed by Josh Lindberg and starring Daniel Geddes, also received acclaim during it recent staging in Johannesburg. Unfortunately I missed the opening of the Cape Town season as I was not well and have seen it, a few days before its closing, so here is a quickie review. As with Joburg, Cape Town reviewers have been raving about this production, the compelling performance by Daniel Geddes, the design and consummate direction by Josh Lindberg. It is an impressive production – with the South African team doing a fine job in conjuring up a vivid portrait of the gay London clubbing scene in the 80s – with its ecstasy and bliss of freedom, pleasure seeking and the grief and pain from the AIDS epidemic.

Jack Holden (his acting gigs include, War Horse) was inspired to write the play, after he worked as a volunteer, for Switchboard, an LGBTQIA+ helpline in the UK. He was 22 and was profoundly moved by the phone call of an older gay man, Michael who spoke about the trajectory of his life – fleeing his family home and exploring his sexual identity – in SOHO in London- becoming HIV positive and going on that journey with his partner. Holden played the role in London. I didn’t see the UK production but Daniel Geddes is terrific – getting the accent- and conjuring up the vibe of London. He sings beautifully and moves seamlessly between spaces (boxes) on the stage.

The play is a homage and elegy to the struggle of gay men in the 80s – living with their mortality at stake- any minute and they could succumb to the “gay plague”. Still, they partied and cruised on. The original music (John Patrick Elliott) synchs with the frenzied Michael as he prowls between club and other spaces. Wilhelm Disbergen’s set frames and contains his energy – the despair, joy, grief, longing.

I found the production too long and felt that it could have done with pruning. However, it is a captivating play and production. I was very moved by the evocation of the period, the milieu of London in the 80s and the heartache of the AIDS pandemic. The pandemic continues with still no vaccine on the horizon, although with new advances in treatment, there are increasing numbers of ‘veterans;’ who live with HIV. For me the play transcends the milieu it depicts and taps into the fact that we all deal with the spectre of death and our own mortality. We watch as people close to us grapple with illness and other challenges. Somehow, the band plays on, as it must. As Michael says, we must keep cruising (I won’t plot spoil – regarding ‘cruising’). We must keep living.

✳ Featured image: Daniel Geddes in the South African production of the play, Cruise, by Jack Holden. Supplied.