BWW REVIEW: The Heartbreakingly Beautiful True Love Story Of Two Young Men Taken Too Soon Plays Out In Lane Cove Theatre Company's HOLDING THE MAN.

BWW REVIEW:  The Heartbreakingly Beautiful True Love Story Of Two Young Men Taken Too Soon Plays Out In Lane Cove Theatre Company's HOLDING THE MAN.

Saturday 12th August 2017, 7:30pm, St Aidan's Church Hall Longueville

Tommy Murphy's adaptation of Tim Conigrave's award winning memoir HOLDING THE MAN is presented with care and simplicity by Lane Cove Theatre Company. Directed by Kathryn Thomas, this story of young gay lovers is a beautiful tribute to lives lost to soon and is presented at a time where so many aspects of their story remains relevant.

For those unfamiliar with the story, which was awarded the United Nations Human Rights Award for Non-Fiction in 1995, HOLDING THE MAN is an autobiography of Tim Conigrave's(Brent Dolahenty) life and particularly his relationship with his love of 15 years and husband John Caleo (Wayne Buckley). Presented as a first person account and exploration of significant events, the story starts from Conigrave's first feelings of attraction to the same gender in primary school where he also starts to experiment with his sexuality, to his discovering the love of his life, John Caleo, when he starts High School. The unlikely love story of the theatre loving Conigrave and the football star Caleo plays out to show the ups and downs of their 15 year relationship, from dealing with prejudice, commitment and ultimately the illness that will take both their lives.

BWW REVIEW:  The Heartbreakingly Beautiful True Love Story Of Two Young Men Taken Too Soon Plays Out In Lane Cove Theatre Company's HOLDING THE MAN.
Rebecca Leedham as Pepe, Wayne Buckley as John Caleo, Brent Dolahenty as Tim Conigrave and Hannah Lehmann as Juliet (Photo: Dawn Pugh)

The work, presented on a simple set dressed with blackboard panels, 4 of which are covered with chalk graffiti comprising quotes from the text, with the fifth representing a bed, is given vertical variety with a large box platform at the rear of the stage. The locations are for the most part implied with only the addition of folding chairs and a table providing minimal detail. Scene changes are covered with a diverse selection of pop and rock music that follows the progression of time from the 1970's to the 1990's, which while helping set the mood, could be trimmed for a tighter performance. The costuming shows the progression of time from the private school uniforms to the boys going to university and growing up. It is however the supporting characters that are presented with a fun creativity as the ensemble of Trent Gardiner, Rebecca Leedham, Isaac Downey and Hannah Lehmann fill the other people that surround Conigrave and Caleo's lives.

BWW REVIEW:  The Heartbreakingly Beautiful True Love Story Of Two Young Men Taken Too Soon Plays Out In Lane Cove Theatre Company's HOLDING THE MAN.
Hannah Lehmann as Juliet, Wayne Buckley as John and Brent Dolahenty as Tim (Photo: Dawn Pugh)

As Conigrave and Caleo, Dolahenty and Buckley are outstanding. Dolahenty captures the uncertainty and awkwardness of youth as the shy young man discovering his sexuality and falling in love. He ensures that the audience sees that Conigrave's youthful experiences are in many ways universal, relatable to the straight audience members as well as the gay, but also layering in the complexity of being a young man, attracted to another young man in 1976, a time when homosexuality was still illegal in most of Australia. As Conigrave grows, Dolahenty ensures his portrayal retains some of his nerdiness whilst exhibiting the adventurous and curious streak that never really goes away and threatens to tear their relationship apart, even when Caleo is really ill. Buckley gives the rugged footballer a beautiful sensitivity throughout which makes Caleo's battle with HIV/AIDS even more heartbreaking. Buckley presents Caleo's devoted love with a palpable emotion and his response when Conigrave asks for a temporary separation is simple but speaks deeply to Caleo's unwavering love and dedication, drawing the audience in to feel his battle with illness and death even deeper..

BWW REVIEW:  The Heartbreakingly Beautiful True Love Story Of Two Young Men Taken Too Soon Plays Out In Lane Cove Theatre Company's HOLDING THE MAN.
Isaac Downey as Peter and Brent Dolahenty as Tim (Photo: Dawn Pugh)

Whilst Conigrave and Caleo are presented with a realism and truth, the peripheral characters are presented with less depth and a degree of caricature as they are presented as Conigrave's impression of them. Downey's portrayal of Conigrave's friend Juliette's mother elicits roars of laughter as he gives the forward thinking mother a delicious power to go with the bold blonde wig and has the audience cheering for her support and protection of the two boys relationship. Lehmann ensures that Juliet's caring support for her friend is clear whilst still having a innocence of youth and a curiosity of growing up. Gardiner is formidable as Caleo's bigoted father but expresses his fraility as he grows older. Leedham gives Caleo's mother a sense of being stuck between understanding her son is in love with Conigrave and the dated idea that a wife would go along with her husband's wishes, which in this case was to deny his son's feelings.

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BWW REVIEW:  The Heartbreakingly Beautiful True Love Story Of Two Young Men Taken Too Soon Plays Out In Lane Cove Theatre Company's HOLDING THE MAN.
Wayne Buckley as John and Brent Dolahenty as Tim (Photo: Dawn Pugh)

homas delivers the delicate balance of comedy and seriousness of this work to ensure the audience are invested in Conigrave and Caleo's story. The blend of storytelling from Conigrave's direct narration, presented with dimmed lights around the frozen scenes works well with the combination of scenes of Conigrave's thoughts being voiced by others and the replays of memories. The opening scene of Conigrave and schoolfriend watching the Apollo 11 landing and a later theatre workshop presents the confusion in Conigrave's mind with an artful layering of the real events and the voices in his head. Thomas ensures that the humour that Conigrove saw within the harder details of his life are presented with an honesty and fabulous comic timing that has the audience laughing even when they are thinking that they shouldn't really be.

BWW REVIEW:  The Heartbreakingly Beautiful True Love Story Of Two Young Men Taken Too Soon Plays Out In Lane Cove Theatre Company's HOLDING THE MAN.
Isaac Downey and Trent Gardiner as Tim's university friends and Brent Dolahenty as Tim (Photo: Dawn Pugh)

This production of HOLDING THE MAN is wonderfully presented and unfortunately still holds a relevance beyond a story of a great love because of the political climate where the LGBTIQ community is still fighting for equality. If anyone needs to see the depth of love that homosexual relationships can achieve, this is a wonderful example of that love. It is also honest in its expression of the challenges that relationships face, some of which are universal such as knowing when you've found that one person you want to spend the rest of your life with or wanting to explore and experience more of life and some which are unique to a community that is still seen with contempt by parts of the community. This Australian play about an Australian Story with strong links to the Sydney arts community is an important work that everyone should see regardless of gender or sexuality.

BWW REVIEW:  The Heartbreakingly Beautiful True Love Story Of Two Young Men Taken Too Soon Plays Out In Lane Cove Theatre Company's HOLDING THE MAN.
Wayne Buckley as John and Brent Dolahenty as Tim (Photo: Dawn Pugh)

11 - 26 August 2017

St Aidan's Church Hall Longueville

www.lanecovetheatrecompany.com

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From This Author Jade Kops

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