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Saturday 10 October 2009


Review: Holding the Man

Posted in: Performance
By Jay Bennie - 7th August 2009

Holding the Man
By Tommy Murphy from the book by Timothy Conigrave
Silo Theatre, director: Shane Bosher
Starring Dan Musgrove, Charlie McDermott, Alison Brice, Andrew Laing, Matt Whelan and Michelle Blundell
Herald Theatre, 7-29 August, 2009



Many things, small or large, understood or misunderstood, can turn a relationship into a roller-coaster ride which only love can possibly keep on the rails, and T
im Conigrave brought more highs and lows to his partnership of love than most men could ever handle.

holding_the_man200wide_jpg.jpg
Holding the Man, the latest gay-themed production from Auckland's Silo Theatre, follows the true story roller-coaster relationship of Tim and John, as recounted by Conigrave in his best-selling memoir of the same name and adapted for the stage by Tommy Murphy. By the time Conigrave wrote his memoir John Caleo, his forbearing partner of fifteen years since highschool in Melbourne, had died of an AIDS-related illness and Conigrave was left with the fear that he had infected the love of his life with the death sentence virus, and the knowledge that he had been a less than committed partner. Holding the Man is therefore Conigrave's stab at redemption.

I suspect tonight's audience reached a split decision as to whether Conigrave redeemed himself completely, and that's as it should be. Because he was a real person and, as beautifully portrayed tonight by Dan Musgrove, all too human; by turns wide eyed, impulsive, selfish, doubting, yearning, desperate, hurt and beaten. Musgrove and this uniformly stunning Silo cast draw us deep into Conigrave's emotional wildride of self-discovery, love and ultimate tragedy. It is, frankly, exhausting. Wonderfully exhausting.

From the deliciously arch romp through young gay love and the birth of gay pride in '70s Melbourne, so like '70s New Zealand you'll be laughing your head off, to the face-slapping reality check that was the onset of the HIV epidemic, Director Shane Bosher has crafted yet another small masterpiece. This is what Silo theatre and Bosher do best: a small story presented in an intimate setting with power and pizzaz.

The cast, headed by Musgrove and the wistful Charlie McDermott, are perfectly chosen and frighteningly talented, but there's more to this magnificent production than good casting. Perhaps, for the gay audience, the key is in the sometimes extravagant, but always spot on, stereotypes of gay life and communities which are conjured up simply, warmly and with often gender-bending panache. Alison Bruce, Andrew Laing, Michelle Blundell and Matt Whelan perform dozens of quick-change support roles seemingly effortlessly and with remarkable character deliniation. Through them Conigrave incisively mocks our foibles and confronts our excesses, and tonight we loved it.

The 1970s are ripe for satirizing of course and Holding the Man spares no one, from dipso mums to earnest Gay Libbers, from fondue parties to free love. From Melanie Safka to Supertramp, disillusioned lesbians and boof-head rugby players. As for the 'teenage hormones running rampant' category, the circle-jerk buddies' wank-fest is a moment of laugh till you cry theatre you won't forget in a long, long time.

But this is a play of two halves (to continue the rugby allusion from which the play takes its title) and after the gay romp of the first half the second half is an intense and unstoppable plunge into death with, maybe, redemption to follow. Once again the Silo team gets it exactly right. My own decision on whether Conigrave redeems himself pivots on Musgrove's delivery of the line: "I may have killed the man I love." You no doubt will find your own pivot point, there are many such moments, and who knows which way your sympathies will tip.

The direction is creative and sure-handed, falling short only when the sheer vitality of the support characters is allowed to distract us from the main action. But, to be fair, even Bosher may have under-estimated how enthusiastically the audience would respond to the sometimes fleeting characters he and the cast have created. And tonight there were too many early moments when words were lost to rapid delivery or competion from the expertly chosen music soundtrack or the Herald Theatre's unforgiving acoustics, but that will doubtless be quickly tweaked.

Recommendation? There's not a glbt person in the country who should miss this play, even if you have to catch bus or plane to do it.

- Jay Bennie


Jay Bennie - 7th August 2009

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