Holding The Man
Above The Stag Theatre
15 September 2017
Tim Conigrave’s award-winning memoir Holding The Man, published in 1995, tells the story of the Australian actor, playwright and activist and his fifteen year relationship with John Caleo. The memoir adapted for the stage by playwright Tommy Murphy has played around the world and has now been made into a motion picture. The production now playing at Above The Stag directed by Gene David Kirk is as powerful and affecting now as Conigrave’s memoir was when it was first published.
Tommy Murphy’s adaptation is episodic in nature, with most of the first act telling of Conigrave’s early gay sexual awakening and the almost fated attraction to school sports star John Caleo. The relationship could almost be fairy-tale by nature, but it is to Conigrave’s credit that he paints himself as narrator with faults and foibles that make this love story real.
Any person who lived through the AIDS crisis of the 1980s-90s will be moved by Tim and John’s story. So brutally honest and so touching is it in the telling that all of the audience were visibly moved on Opening Night.
Jamie Barnard plays Tim. As narrator and central character in this piece he is our guide. It’s truly a coming of age story and the tremendous joy and love that pours out of his performance when it comes to John, played by Ben Boskovic is something to behold. Likewise with Boskovic’s John, seemingly innocent but so incredibly in love with Tim that he is prepared to overlook the pain caused by Tim’s desire for an open relationship.
The development of both characters over the fifteen years of the story is beautifully handled by these two incredibly talented young actors. The emotion is raw, compelling, painful and utterly believable at all times.
No matter the fact that this is very much Tim and John’s story. Holding The Man is very much an ensemble piece with the remaining cast of five comprising Liam Burke, Joshua Coley, Annabel Pemberton, Robert Thompson and Faye Wilson conjuring more characters than I could care to count. School chums, actors, parents, nurses, doctors, friends – all are rendered individually with such tremendous love and care, so as to be intensely moving.
Part of the magic of this production is its soundtrack. Much care has been put into assembling music from the Australian charts that co-incide with the plays timeline. Hearing Sherbert, Donna Summer, and at one point a lilting piano solo of Peter Allen’s Tenterfield Sadler, added so much subliminal impact.
Gene David Kirk directs the production with a deft hand, keeping the pace flowing, only allowing it to slow to increase the emotional impact of the play’s closing. David Shields’ set design and Jack Weir’s lighting design seem simplistic, the production is not encumbered with trying to realise multiple locations over more than a decade. It is to their credit that this complex technical production never overpowers the story as it unfolds. These formidable creatives are perfectly in tune with Tommy Murphy’s writing, the passing of time and change of locations needed seem organic and make the fifteen year passage of this tale move smoothly.
Tim and John’s story continues to resonate with so many people. It can only be hoped that as many people as possible with see this remarkable production and will spread the word further.
PS On a personal note I met Tim when he was performing in Brighton Beach Memoirs in Sydney, his giving nature encouraged my interest and love in theatre, a love that ensures decades later. Thank you Tim.