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Interview with Jack Holden

Jack Holden is bringing his Olivier nominated play 'Cruise' to HOME in Manchester for its regional premiere from 20 July - 12 August. We caught up with him ahead of the show opening to find out more about Cruise!

To those who know nothing about Cruise, what is it all about?

Cruise is a solo show I wrote and perform, set in the seedy, sexy, kaleidoscopic Soho of the 1980s. It deals with the darkest days of the HIV crisis, but it’s life-affirming, uplifting and full of laughs. It’s a 90-minute rollercoaster ride of music, larger-than-life characters, heartbreaking twists and turns, and eye-popping design.

What inspired you to write Cruise? Where did the original idea come from?

Cruise is based on a true story I heard when I volunteered for Switchboard, the LGBTQ+ Helpline, in my early 20s. A man called Michael rang up to tell me his story on the anniversary of his partner’s death. Michael had moved to Soho in 1980, found the gay scene, fallen in love and - just as he was coming of age - contracted HIV. At the time, there was no effective medication, so the diagnosis was a death sentence. He and his boyfriend decided to sell their flat, spend all their money, run up credit card debts and party like it was the last night on earth - because any day could be. Dave passed away in 1986, but Michael got lucky. He survived until treatment came along, and he went on to live to a ripe old age. It struck me as such a bittersweet story: to get your lifespan back, but to have lost so much. I knew I wanted to tell this story on stage one day...

You play so many characters in the show, which is the most fun to play?

Across Michael’s years in Soho he meets a host of weird and wonderful characters who guide him in his journey of self-discovery, love, loss and survival. His boss at the recording studio he works in is a brash Mancunian called DJ Fingers; he lodges with a rotund, camp New Yorker called Fat Sandy; and he falls in love with a man known on the scene as Slutty Dave (for obvious reasons). However, my favourite character to play is an older gentleman who wears a maroon three-piece suit with matching fedora, and speaks in the coded gay language of Polari. He’s called Polari Gordon and he’s like a parent to Michael. Think Quentin Crisp.

Although you are the only actor in this show, it would be unfair to call this a one-person show. Can you tell us how music plays such an important role?

On stage with me throughout the show is John Patrick Elliott who composed and performs the live electronic score to the show. It’s a journey from the end of the disco era, through the rise of synthesiser pop, to the rise of House, Jungle and Rave. John seamlessly weaves the scenes, characters and locations of the play together with his thumping soundtrack, which is so detailed, so uplifting, so foot-tapping that he really is the star of the show! There are lots of existing songs in the show as well: You Are Always On My Mind; I Will Survive; Is That All There Is?

I think Manchester audiences will absolutely love the show. Why did you choose to bring the show to Manchester?

I hope you’re right! The show is a love letter to music, queer culture and community. Manchester was the obvious next stop for this show, with its vibrant gay village, its rich history of music and its unique sense of a city-wide community spirit.

Have you adapted the show at all since its last west end run?

Whenever we bring the show back we always make little changes here and there, but it’s largely the same show. The only difference is that HOME Theatre has an extraordinary sound system, so we’re able to find new highs and lows to the sound design this time around. It’s going to be a roof-shaking experience :)

What message do you want people to take away from the show?

Cruise celebrates community, diversity and individuality. I hope it inspires audiences to value life and growing older. And I hope it reminds people of the transformative, transcendental power of music and dance!

What is next for Cruise?

After Manchester, we’re hoping to take the show to New York, and we’ve also got a feature film in development!

Look out for my review after press night! See link below to grab your tickets to Cruise. .


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