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Holding the Man review at Jack Studio Theatre, London – ‘richly textured’

Scene from Holding the Man at Jack Studio Theatre, London. Photo: Nicholas Chinardet
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While London’s King’s Head Theatre is running a revival of Tommy Murphy’s Strangers in Between, south of the river the Big Boots Theatre Company has created an equally engaging production of Murphy’s Holding the Man.

Based on the autobiographical novel by Tim Conigrave, the play tells of Conigrave’s relationship with John Caleo from the flush of first love to John’s AIDS-related death in 1992.

Murphy’s loosely woven narrative explores the intimacy of the relationship in a series of fragmented scenes, punctuating the couple’s sexual and emotional awakening.

Director Sebastian Palka draws on Conigrave’s career as an actor for this production, allowing the story to unfold in a rehearsal room, with most of the actors playing several roles and on-stage costume changes and  movement exercises used to add texture. For the most part it works well but while this is a remarkably physical production, it is the quiet chemistry between Christopher Hunter as Tim and Paul-Emile Forman as John that stands out.

Hunter’s portrayal of Tim, from curious child to gay activist is beautifully delineated. The honesty and balance that the actor brings to the role helps us cope with Conigrave’s more frustrating and less attractive qualities. In turn, Hunter is blessed with a performer of great sensitivity in Forman, who makes his professional debut here and instinctively captures every ruck and twist in the fabric of their relationship. Plaka’s production is by no means perfect, but there is much promise here both in the interpretation of the play and the performances.

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Richly textured love story enhanced by a fresh interpretation and strong central performances