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NEWS > Alumni News > OJ Jack Holden, hits the West End with his Writing Debut, 'Cruise'

OJ Jack Holden, hits the West End with his Writing Debut, 'Cruise'

Following its sell-out, critically acclaimed run in the West End, Jack talks to the OJ Community about his incredible achievement & the impact his one man show has had.
10 Jun 2021
Alumni News

Kathleen Lynch Howard (long-term former member of staff)  kindly alerted us to this exciting OJ news!

She writes, "Last night, myself, Stef Flynn and Nicky Smith from the English Department, along with Gail Williams (a retired English Department colleague) saw our ex-student Jack Holden in his amazing one-man show (which he wrote) 'Cruise’ at the Duchess Theatre in Covent Garden.  The show has been really well reviewed and struck a chord with so many".  Kathleen who taught Jack English and Drama at Judd says of her former pupil, “He has really done something very important with this show”.

Photographer: Pamela Raith

Cruise is described by The Guardian as, "Stunningly funny and utterly charming, Holden is enchanting. He fills the stage to the point where you forget he’s acting alone".

Especially poignant timing for this show to be aired during PRIDE month, I gave Jack a call to get the low down: 

Jack thank you so much for speaking to the OJ Community! I bet you are tired after all these performances so thank you for making the time.  How did you feel after last night's performance and seeing all your former teachers there? 

It was so wonderful to see lots of my English Department there last night. It felt very special and like it had come full circle – them holding the programmes about something I had written and then watching me on stage.

This lull in theatre has really given me an opportunity to get my writing debut on stage.  Interestingly, while Lord Webber would have everyone believe there is no theatre happening in London, it is actually really vibrant and buzzing scene for all the lesser known writers, actors and productions to have a chance, so these are actually very exciting times in the West End.

What inspired you to tell this very important story?

‘Cruise’ is based on a true story I heard when I was volunteering for Switchboard in my early 20s. A man called up to tell me about his younger years: he moved to Soho in the 80s, found his tribe and fell in love. However, a couple of years after he landed in London, he and his partner were both diagnosed with HIV. His partner died soon after and he decided that he wasn’t going to sit around and wait to die. So he sold the flat, sold the car and spent all his money, burning the candle at both ends, living every day as if it was his last. Then, against the odds, he survived, effective medication came along, and he went on to live to a ripe old age. The story struck me as incredibly bittersweet. I’ve wanted to retell the story on stage or on screen somehow, but never found the right way. Then, when lockdown came along, I had the time to knuckle down and actually get it written!

Photographer: Pamela Raith

What made you decide to get into writing beyond acting?

I was always into writing at school – well before acting took hold – I remember I wrote a poem when I was in Year 9 I think and the teacher said, “This could be published!” and that got me really excited.  Then I got into drama a few years later under the watchful gaze of Miss Lynch-Howard and then progressed into theatre school Bristol Old Vic – I graduated from there in 2011. Even then I was dabbling in writing – I’m very glad I kept at it because you can have some very quiet times between acting jobs and it’s great to have something to get your teeth into – you don’t need actors or directors, just you.

Photographer: Pamela Raith

Were you surprised/excited when a theatre agreed to take on this production so early on in the process of coming out of lockdown?

This opportunity came just when I was at the right time and in the right place with a finished piece ready to go. This time last year I was wondering if the whole theatre industry was caput, and one year on I have a show on at a West End theatre!  – so yes in answer to the question, very surprised and very pleased they took the risk.


Photographer: Pamela Raith

I'm so sorry we didn't hear of this exciting news before now and the show is sadly ending on Sunday, will you run it again do you think for those of us who missed it this time round?

Yes ‘Cruise' is ending on Sunday but  is returning to “Stream.Theatre” from the 14th-27th June. Tickets for the online run can be bought here: and I hope to bring it back in the autumn to the West End.

Photographer: Pamela Raith

What’s next for you and your fascinating career?

I’m actually going to do a TV series with Amazon – don’t think I’m allowed to let the cat out of the bag yet and tell you its name but I can say it’s a popular comedy and I’ll be doing that for the next few months, and then bringing Cruise back to the West End as I say, for another run in the Autumn.

Any advice for budding actors reading this/at Judd?

I'm not sure what the school drama provision is at the moment, but I was lucky enough to be able to study GCSE drama at Judd – but that’s only part of what got me where I am today so it’s not essential.  The main thing that makes a difference is all the extra-curricular opportunities at Judd and at other local schools that you can explore and take part in  - that’s what gives you the real scope.   Find the opportunities to explore this passion in acting, go out and seek them!

We wish Jack all the best with his coming ventures and at the time of this interview, a very few tickets can still be bought here before Sunday:  BOOK ONLINE NOW


Preview Clip:

Overview from the Nimax Theatres Website:

"1988. Soho. His last night on earth.

The ‘stunning, joyful and wholeheartedly life-grabbing’ (The Guardian), CRUISE is the true story of what should have been Michael Spencer’s last night on earth, performing live for a strictly limited season at the Duchess Theatre. Must end 13 June.

When he’s diagnosed with HIV in 1984, Michael is told he’ll have four years to live – at most. On the last night of his four-year countdown, Michael decides to go out with a bang. He says his goodbyes, dances, sings, and says yes to everything and everyone.

Written and performed by Jack Holden with ‘vast charm, empathy and energy’ (Evening Standard), CRUISE is a celebration of queer culture; a kaleidoscopic musical and spoken word tribute to the veterans of the AIDs crisis; an urgent piece of theatre, with an irresistible 80s soundtrack, which will make you laugh, make you cry, and which inspires us all to live every day as if it’s our last.

Directed ‘with inventive control’ (WhatsOnStage) by Bronagh Lagan and featuring a ‘pulse-quickening, period-pastiche electro soundtrack’ (The Telegraph) performed live by John Elliott.
Cruise performs live at the Duchess Theatre until 13 June".

Another fantastic review:

Tuesday 18 May – Sunday 13 June

Tickets From
Prices include booking fees of up to £3, applicable to online & telephone bookings and a £1.50 restoration levy.

Show Times
Tuesday – Friday 8pm
Saturday 3pm & 8pm
Sunday 3pm & 7pm

Running Time
Approx 90mins no interval

Duchess Theatre
Age recommendation Age 16+.
This production contains Adult Themes including references to Self-Harm.

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