The intoxicating, vibrant Cruise is the true story of what should have been Michael Spencer’s last night on earth. Written and performed by Jack Holden, this bold, one-man show at the Duchess Theatre, featuring live music, will be one of the first shows to open in the West End since last March.
When he’s diagnosed with HIV in 1984, Michael Spencer is told he’ll have four years to live – at most. So, with the clock ticking, he and his partner Dave decide to sell their house, flog the car, and spend everything they have to party like it’s the last days of Rome. When Dave dies two years later, Michael doubles down on his hedonistic ways, spending what little he has on drink and drugs.
On the last night of his four year countdown – 29th February 1988 – Michael decides to go out with a bang. He puts on his favourite jacket, heads for Soho, and embarks on a long night of farewells. He says his goodbyes to friends, enemies and strangers; old haunts, dive bars, cafes, clubs and pubs; his brothers, sisters, allies and exes. He dances, sings, and says yes to everything and everyone. Then, with all his affairs taken care of, Michael promptly… survives.
Michael got lucky. He’s been given the gift of life – but what kind of life can he now live?
Written and performed by Jack Holden (War Horse, West End; Ink, Almeida Theatre) Cruise is a celebration of gay 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.
Writer and performer Jack Holden explained: “Cruise is based on a true story I was told while volunteering for Switchboard, the LGBT+ listening service a few years ago. In making the show, I’ve woven dozens of other stories into the fabric of the final piece. It’s not recognisably one person’s story; but it will hopefully be familiar to a generation of people who lived through the AIDS crisis, and will be educational to people who weren’t there.
“There was a real Michael, but Cruise really is a big melting pot of fact, fiction and imagination. I’ve sat with the story at the heart of the show for many years so I’ve given it lots of space and time. However, I’m still nervous to tell a story from a time I didn’t live through. I feel the pressure to do my queer elders justice. I spoke to lots of queer people about their experiences of Soho, the 80s, HIV and AIDS in the making of this show, so I hope the characters and details will ring true.”
Cruise is directed by Bronagh Lagan and features an uplifting electronic soundtrack performed live by John Elliott.
Jack Holden said of the show’s music: “I’m also a huge fan of music from the 1980s. It’s such an interesting time for music – moving away from the Prog Rock bands and the string-filled Disco bangers of the 60s and 70s, to the artificial beats and the heavy use of synthesiser in the explosion of bubblegum Pop, Chicago House and, eventually, Acid House. I wanted to use this musical evolution as the backdrop for Cruise because music is a really quick way to set tone, time and place for an audience.”
Marking Aria Entertainment’s first production in the West End producer Katy Lipson said: “It is an absolute honour to have the opportunity to present this play, not only on a West End stage, but as we are coming out of what has been one of the most difficult and challenging years for all. It is a brave and innovative show which brings us into a world and part of history which we may not be so familiar with.
“A story which we should hear about; one of survival, loss, re-building a life and looking forward to the future. All on top of the most uplifting and brilliant soundtrack. After receiving the script during lockdown, I couldn’t have imagined that we’d be presenting it as our first West End play the following year. I am so looking forward to sharing it with a live audience.”