Written By Tommy Murphy
Directed by Jarrad West
Everyman Theatre production
ACTHUB Theatre to April 1
Reviewed by Len Power
Based on the best-selling memoir by Timothy Conigrave, “Holding The Man”, adapted for the theatre by Tommy Murphy in 2006, is one of the most successful Australian plays of recent times.
A reasonably faithful adaptation of the book, the play captures, in its account of a 15 year relationship, what it was like being young and gay during the ‘80s AIDS crisis. It starts with a young gay boy in an all-male school in 1970s Melbourne who has a crush on John, the captain of the football team. Their developing relationship plays out through the rocky path of the many difficulties gay men faced at that time, until the AIDS crisis finally parts them.
Conigrave won a place to study at NIDA during this period and director, Jarrad West’s production reflects the exercises and improvisations of that drama school in his spare production. Puppetry is also used effectively at particular moments. Besides the main characters of Tim Conigrave, played by Joel Horwood and Lewis McDonald as John Caleo, the other cast members play multiple roles, often swapping genders as required.
Joel Horwood gives a superb performance in the marathon role of Conigrave. He is particularly effective as the young school boy honestly expressing his homosexuality in a time when it was not acceptable and as a young man stoically bearing up through the loss of his partner.
Lewis McDonald as Caleo also gives a fine performance in the difficult role of a young man often at odds with his homosexuality. There is a quiet depth and, at times, almost a remoteness to his performance that is very real, making us understand the pain and uncertainty of this character.
The director, Jarrad West, has obtained fine, heart-felt performances from his cast. It may have been in the script but a lot of the depiction of the sexual antics of the characters seemed more than was necessary. The sleeping bag group masturbation scene, for example, made its point early and then overstayed its welcome.
While there was no difficulty hearing Joel Horwood when he addressed the audience, conversations between characters were often hard to hear, lacking volume and clarity. The final dinner scene between Conigrave and Caleo, a key moment in the play, suffered particularly because of this.
Overall, this is a fine production of an important play, reminding everyone of the AIDS crisis of the ‘80s and that today’s acceptability and understanding of sexuality in all its forms was not won without a fight.
Photos by Janelle McMenamin and Michael Moore
This review was first published by Canberra CityNews digital edition on 24 March.
Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at https://justpowerwriting.blogspot.com/