Holding the Man May 2010

london west end

It’s hard to write about a play that is so raw, so honest and heartwrenchingly brilliant without making everyone think I’m paid by the theatre. Well, I wish. ūüėČ

The play covers a span of 15 years, a lifetime for both Tim Conigrave and John Caleo. The two boys meet in the late 70ies and keep their love alive even though their lives drift apart at some point. And even though John, the beautiful, gentle soul in the body of a Football Captain, is hurt more than once by the infidelities of outgoing Tim, who lives his life openly and to the fullest, yet always returns to the love of his life.

Guy Edmonds and Matt Zeremes, both “on lease” from Australia, where they’d played Tim and John before, are absolutely stunning as the two boys in love – four more actors cover 40 supporting characters, most important among them:¬†Simon Burke.

Australian Simon Burke shows his versatility by covering an actor in his 30ies¬†in a shopping mall “saving up to go to New York”, as well as 16-year-old beach bum Derge, who’s unimpressed by Tim’s admission that he and John are lovers. Because “cercle jerk buddies don’t give a damn”. At that point the audience is more or less rolling on the floor over the antics of the boys in the cabin, fumbling in their sleeping bags. He’s also Woody, the activist student, who a couple of years later lures Tim into political gay protests and other – temptations.

But he also plays¬†both fathers – the ¬†helpless, in over his head, frustrated Dick¬† (Tim’s) and the hatefilled, hardened Bob. And he manages to make the audience cringe over totally different versions of “assholeness” –¬†for lack of a better word.

When Tim and John are finally diagnosed with HIV, it is John whose health is¬†rapidly declining – as if the gentler man hadn’t much fight left in him. At the point when he finally succumbs to an Aids-related infection not only Tim is in tears. He is being left out of his lover’s death because Bob, full of hate, has taken over, stuffing what he perceives as “his” into a garbage bag and then brokenly and with tears¬†declaiming his son’s eulogy in the paper – no mention of Tim in there.

At that point the whole audience is crying – four tough men sitting next to me in one of the shows were sobbing just as much as I myself.

Alone, Tim travels back to Italy (where John’s ancestors had been from) and – too lonely for words – writes his autobiography – a memoir of his love for John, a last gift to the man who was still in his heart. He dies only months later.

The actors are all on an emotional roller coaster ride for the whole performance. They all acknowledged that this particular play was more taxing than any other shows they’d been in. And Jane Turner (brilliant in the parts of the totally frustrated mothers, but also hilariously funny as the old queen and the hysteric actress) and Simon Burke graciously¬†both shared personal experiences at a Q&A after one of the shows.

Also the whole cast is incredibly friendly and patient at the stage door, writing autographs and posing for pics even after two shows in a row (how they manage to hold their concentration and emotions is beyond me – tho I think it’s called brilliant acting).

Therefore – it’s on till July 3rd – go see it! It’s fantastic, it’s challenging, it’s important. I’m contemplating to go back…

Prequel, set right after returning home from London:

Gimme time to recover. I saw the show five times and was in tears and a total wreck five times. It doesn’t help when grown men, tough and tall, cry like babies next to you.

Simon Burke was fantastic.

The rest of the cast was brilliant, too.

And I was incredibly lucky to sit next to Gabe for all five shows, even tho we had booked our tickets separately! That way we could hold onto each other during the cathartic final moments of the play.

So this for now: RUN, don’t go, and SEE this play! It’s terrific, moving, heart breaking, and absolutely brilliant!

Then go to the stage door and tell the cast I sent you! LOL

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