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Saturday 10 October 2009


A celebration of lives lived out loud

Posted in: Performance
By Matt Akersten & Jay Bennie - 30th July 2009

When sensitive yet sassy Tim fell for John, the hunky captain of their Catholic high school football team it all sounded like the opening scenes from a cheesy '70s porno movie.

But Tim Conigrave and John Caleo were real gay teens and their love affair endured for fifteen years, ending only when Conigrave died in 1994 of an HIV-related illness. Their time together was immortalised in Conigrave’s best-selling memoir, Holding The Man, finished shortly before his death, which was in turn adapted into the play opening August 6 at Auckland’s Herald Theatre.

Produced by Silo Theatre and directed by one of New Zealand’s most lauded directors, Shane Bosher, Holding the Man is described as a “wickedly funny and breathtakingly candid” representation of Conigrave and Caleo’s relationship, as the pair traverse fifteen years of separations, discriminations, temptations, jealousies and losses.

“I picked up the book and was taken by its candor and wit,” says Bocher, who generally manages to programme at least one magnificently gay production into each Silo year. “It's ultimately a love story,” he says. “Coming out is part of it, and AIDS is definitely a part of it, but they are just components of the story - as opposed to being the driving factor... It's a celebration of lives lived out loud.”

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Charlie McDermott
There is a feeling among the company of wanting to honour the lives of these people, says Bocher of the cast which includes the impossibly sexy pairing of Dan Musgrove as Conigrave and Charlie McDermott as Caleo. But there’s an irreverent side to the production too, which sees the cast in a tongue in cheek parade of the best and the worst of 1970s and early 80s fashion and grooming.


Rehearsals have been eye-opening and hilarious, says Bosher. “The cast has had to throw themselves in boots and all. Alison Bruce, for example, is playing everything from a 19-year-old Turkish boy, to a 45-year-old Aussie battler mum, to a leather queen… and not only do they play this full gamut of ages, but most of the actors cross gender at some point. So that's been a hilarious leap for most of them to take.”

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Dan Musgove
Bosher isn’t shying away from the extreme tragedy of the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic which is a strong influence on the play. “A lot of younger people have no understanding of what the epidemic was, and how it basically extinguished an entire generation of people. We have three different generations involved in this play - and the younger ones have had to go through quite a learning process about what it actually all meant. And as a result, they've questioned their own lives and their own choices. So I would hope that, without being a piece of ‘worthy education theatre,’ it will trigger the audiences to re-question their own reality.”

It's a full theatrical experience, he says. “I'd hate to think people would think 'AIDS play - not for me' or even 'gay play - not for me'. The story is bigger than that - it's about lives very well lived.”

Apart from a small-scale university production in San Francisco, this production of Holding the Man - the title comes from a footy term for a move that incurs a penalty - is the first outside Conigrave and Caleo’s homeland of Australia. “It opened in Sydney at the end of 2006, and sold out in every theatre it went to, and toured the country throughout 2008,” enthuses Bosher. “So it's developed a huge following in Australia, and not just with queer audiences. It's really touched a lot of people in many different ways.”

Holding The Man runs from August 6 to 29, and includes a special fundraising performance in aid of Body Positive Auckland on August 8 with performance plus after-show nibbles and drinks with the cast.


Matt Akersten & Jay Bennie - 30th July 2009

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