Performing Arts

Holding the Man


Presented by State Theatre Company of South Australia
Reviewed Tuesday 25th October 2011

Venue: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: to Sat 13th November, various days and times, see the BASS web site for details
Duration: 2hrs 25min incl interval
Tickets: Prices from – adult $49/conc $42/under 30s $29
Bookings: BASS 131 241 or

State Theatre and all involved in this magnificent production have every reason to be proud of their achievements. Tommy Murphy's sensitive adaptation of Timothy Conigrave's book, of the same title, is in the very capable hands of seasoned director, Rosalba Clemente, who doesn't miss a thing in bringing out both the humour and the pathos with the help of her exceptional cast.

The narrative takes us from Tim Conigrave's early school days and his realisation that he is a homosexual, going on to high school and falling for the captain of the football team, John Caleo, their fifteen year relationship, the discovery that they are both HIV positive, and the death of John from an AIDS related illness. Tim died three years later, during which time he wrote the book about their love affair. He did not live long enough to see it published, the success that it achieved, nor the play that came from it.

There are some absolutely hilarious moments in the first act, such as when Tim auditions for, and is studying at NIDA, which is a send-up of actor training and those that teach. Another is when Tim and his circle of school friends are in their sleeping bags. You will need a ticket to discover what I mean by that. The first act takes us up to the point where it is confirmed that they are both HIV positive, where the lighter mood and frivolity ends abruptly, giving way to the darker and deeply emotional second act.

Luke Clayson and Nic English play Tim and John, bringing a genuine warmth to the relationship between their characters through two superbly convincing performances. Clayson gives Tim a lively exuberance and certain degree of flamboyance, in love with John, but not seeing sex as something to be kept exclusively between the two of them. English gives a fine account of the quieter John, who studies and becomes a chiropractor. He portrays John as a gentle person, slightly shy, forgiving, devoted to Tim and often bemused by him. Separated by distance and Tim's promiscuity, the strong link between the two was stretched but did not break and, in adversity, strengthened. Clayson and English bring out all of this in their performances.

Ellen Steele plays Juliet, who is attracted to Tim while at primary school and constantly hopes that he will grow out of his interest in other men and fall for her. They remain friends throughout and she supports him in all that he does. Steele gives a compassionate reading to the role, growing from a young girl into a woman as imperceptibly as do Clayson and English, as the years tick past.

Geoff Revell, Nick Pelomis and Catherine Fitzgerald tackle a great many roles during the show, from parents, to schoolmates, to university GaySoc members, to patrons of a gay club and more, occasionally assisted by Ellen Steele when she is not playing her primary role as Juliet.

It is not unusual to hear somebody referred to as a 'hoot' and, if that bird sound is an acceptable definition of one person that makes you laugh, then Geoff Revell, Nick Pelomis and Catherine Fitzgerald together could well be described as a parliament of owls for their unbelievably comic antics during the first act. They will have you in stitches. In the second act, however, they change completely and display their equally huge talents as powerful, dramatic actors. Revell's portrayal of a homophobic father, rejecting his son, will disgust you.

Designer, Morag Cook, has used three, angled archways of bookshelves, each looking as though it would swing around to fit into the one in front. The shelves contain a number of relevant props used during the play and other memoirs are placed there as they arise and are finished with. Lighting designer, Mark Shelton, creates various spaces and adds atmosphere, assisted by Stuart Day's intimate music.

Make sure that you get to see this production while you can. It is a moving and powerful celebration of love in a production filled with marvellous performances.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

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