Tim Conigrave and John Caleo’s decade-spanning relationship was undoubtedly a gorgeous thing to behold. Meeting as school boys in 1970s Melbourne and staying together into the 1990s, their relationship was first documented in Conigrave’s memoirs and later adapted by Tommy Murphy for the stage.
The coming-of-age story, though one that follows a predictable path once Conigrave decides they should sleep with other people, is potentially quite moving. But Murphy’s script is clumsy, with erratic pacing and hackneyed dialogue that lacks nuance. The cast consequently struggle to connect with their characters, making for a stumbling two and a half hours that feels more like the 15 years that Tim and John were together.
Young, international actors Christopher Hunter and Paul-Emile Forman are Tim and John. The two have a lovely chemistry and their physical intimacy is convincing, even if their words are less so. The rest of the cast play an array of people the two men encounter over their lifetimes, some with more success than others. Dickon Farmar shows particularly good range as John’s conservative, Catholic father and the camp leader of the uni’s LGBT society, amongst other roles.
Sebastian Palka struggles to find the rhythm of passing time in the text, though it’s a good chance that there wasn’t one to tap into. Some transitions are clearly signalled, others rushed over and lead to confusion. Murphy’s scenes are also irregularly spaced over his chronology – it’s hugely disruptive to the narrative flow and prevents any real engagement with the story. The first half covers most of the lads’ relationship whilst the second focuses on the past few years. The script is also too long, even for a coming-of-age tale.
The 1980s gay scene eventually catches up with John and Tim in an all too predictable fashion. Though their final months together are undeniably poignant, the execution of their story does little to serve the whole.
Holding the Man runs through 14 February.
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