November 06, 2011

Holding the Man

October 25, 2011

Holding the Man
by Tommy Murphy
from the book by Timothy Conigrave
State Theatre Company of South Australia
Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre.
October 25 . Tickets $ 29 – $59. Bookings : BASS 131 246
Until November 13.

As anyone who knows footy will tell you, holding the man is not just against the rules, but against Australian Rules. Timothy Conigrave’s 1995 memoir, Holding the Man, about his fifteen year gay relationship with his school friend (and captain of the football team) John Caleo, is a poignant and compelling account of how, as boys and then as men, they challenged and re-wrote those rules and transformed their lives, and those around them, in the process.

State Theatre Company has revived Tommy Murphy’s stage adaptation of Conigrave’s book first performed by Griffin Theatre in 2006 and subsequently taken up in other productions in Australia, the UK and US. The re-creation of the events of Tim and John teenage and uni years makes the play a period piece but also a timely reminder of the tragic devastation caused by HIV-AIDS as the epidemic spread in cities like Sydney in the mid 1980s and into the following decade.

Murphy’s script recognizes the contrasts of light and shade in Conigrave’s account and in the first act makes much of the free-spirited lives of the two young men. Beginning with Neil Armstrong’s moon landing and continuing through the lifestyle revolutions of the 1970s, the play name-checks Supertramp and Bryan Ferry, the Monash Uni Gay Soc and the Essendon football club.

State director Rosalba Clemente has created a warm, funny and briskly paced production which richly explores the familiar suburban details of the characters. The multiple wooden frames, of Morag Cook’s functional décor , serve like a series of portals to remind us of the multi-dimensional time settings, Mark Shelton’s lighting is discreet and sympathetic and Stuart Day’s sometimes subliminal soundscape is apt and versatile.

Rosalba Clemente has also gathered an excellent cast of six who bring affectionate comic detail to a daunting number of roles. As Kevin and Biscuit, the capable Nick Pelomis reminds us that not everyone at school is homophobic and Ellen Steele is well-cast as Tim’s school friend, but not girlfriend, Juliet. Catherine Fitzgerald and Geoff Revell are outstanding, expertly matching pathos and gentle comedy as Tim and John’s parents – with their contrasting responses to their sons’ sexuality. In other vignettes, such as the uni gay society meeting and the NIDA impro class, they are downright hilarious.

Central to the production’s success, though, are Luke Clayson and Nic English, excellent as Tim and John; assured, believable and understated as two young men who share a relationship for fifteen eventful, but all-too short, years. By breaking stereotypes, and with its honesty and directness, Holding the Man is not an infringement, it’s a centimeter-perfect shot for goal.

Murray Bramwell

Published in slightly abridged form as
“Compelling account of boys rewriting the rules and kicking goals” The Australian, October 27, 2011, p.15.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment