HOLDING THE MAN
by Tommy Murphy.
The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, London SE4 2DH to 4 February 2017.
Runs 2hr 30 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 0333 666 3356
A time for loving, a time for dying
Sensitively directed and very well acted by the six strong cast Holding the Man comes garlanded with awards. Dramatised in 2006 by Tommy Murphy it is based on a memoir published in 1995 by an Australian actor Timothy Conigrave about his fifteen year relationship with John Caleo – they met at school in the 1970s. Conigrave’s memoir was given a United Nations Human Rights Award for non fiction in 1995 and Murphy’s play has won several awards. It deserves its place in the pantheon of plays about gay life when Aids first arrived, but times have changed, both as far as HIV is concerned and how people regard homosexuality – perhaps not in every country, but certainly in many countries.
It has, in a sense, lost its power to move. Conigrave and Caleo are pleasant young men but not in themselves very interesting. However delightful they may have been in real life, and what happens to them happened to countless others.
At two and a half hours the play is just too long – maybe not for Australian audiences – and cries out for some judicious cutting. As drama it is predictable stuff with no great insights into either man.
The first half takes us through the developing romance between the shy and sensitive John, and quirky and defiant Tim, a bull in anybody’s china shop. They have problems with parents, but not ones that end family relationships, and settle down into an at first monogamous relationship. Life goes on. John is happy enough with one partner, Tim gets interested in looking elsewhere and in the second half we get the inevitable “lets have friends outside our relationship” proposal, followed by, given the time, the equally inevitable the discovery that both of them have HIV. Caleo died in 1992, Conigrave two years later.
It is moving because this is a real story, but as a drama it does not illuminate anything new, going over very familiar ground – parents understand, there is the who gets what stuff about wills and friends rally round.
Director Sebastian Palka has set it simply – a bed, a rack of clothes, some chairs for props and briefly a video sequence – and used lighting and movement to great effect. The production is faultless and the six strong cast as good as it is possible to be. The four supporting players – Maria-Jane Lynch, Dicken Farmer, Emma Zadow and Sam Goodchild – play numerous characters with great skill while the two leads, Christopher Hunter as narrator Tim and Paul-Emile Forman as the essentially passive John, could not be bettered. Holding the Man is worth catching for an impressive professional debut by Forman and an equally impressive London debut by Hunter alone. As a piece of Australian theatre it probably does deserve its accolades, but taken out of its national context it loses some the power it must have had. Time has also done its work.
Overly familiar territory or not, however, it is territory worth revisiting for the quality of the work of this new company – just not for quite so long.
Tim: Christopher Hunter.
John: Paul-Emile Forman.
Everybody else – Maria-Jane Lynch, Dickon Farmer, Emma Zadow & Sam Goodchild.
The voice of Richard: Timothy Hofmeier.
Director: Sebastian Palka.
Movement/Associate Director: Roman Berry.
Costume Designer: Przemyslaw Piotr Klonowski.
Set Designer: Reiko Moreau.
Lighting Designer: Tom Butler.