Holding The Man is a tour de force of Australian theatre

By Gill Canning

Tom Conroy and Danny Ball in Holding the Man. Image / Brett Boardman
Tom Conroy and Danny Ball in Holding the Man. Image / Brett Boardman
Tim and John fell in love at a time when love affairs like theirs were mostly conducted in secret. This play tells their moving story, warts and all.

Anyone growing up in Australia in the 1980s probably remembers the ‘Grim Reaper’ TV advertisements. They encouraged people to use condoms in their sexual relationships to avoid catching the deadly AIDS virus. It was a time of uncertainty and fear. Belvoir St Theatre’s current production of Holding the Man transports audiences back to that era, when gay people were often vilified and made to feel ‘other’.

In the mid-1970s, Melbourne teenagers Tim Conigrave and John Caleo fell in love at their Catholic boys’ school. Their friends were mostly accepting of their relationship but their parents were less happy. After school, the young men moved to Sydney where Tim was an acting student at NIDA and John worked as a chiropractor, but it wasn’t long before the spectre of AIDS began to touch their circle of friends…

Image / Brett Boardman

The Book, the Play, the Film

Before he died at a tragically young age, Tim wrote his autobiography. It was made into a play (2006) and then a film (2015), all of the same name. This production of Holding the Man is among the best things I have ever seen at Belvoir St Theatre. The detailed set, the cringey ‘70s fashions and the disco-embossed tunes are all painstakingly authentic, giving me serious flashbacks.

The entire cast of six is outstanding but the brightest star is Tom Conroy as Tim. This mesmerising young actor plays Tim as a beautiful but flawed man, always looking for creative outlets, swirling his way through life with his north star, John, by his side. When he is on stage, it is hard to take your eyes off him as he is Tim, the clear-eyed teller of this story.

Image / Brett Boardman

Love, Lust & Politics

Director Eamon Flack explains: “When Tim and John fell in love in 1974 there was no clear path. They had to make it up, sniff it out, explore, discover, experiment. Their lives became political. Love and lust drove them on. In the thirty-odd years since their deaths they have become like mythical figures. In many ways, their story is a common one [but] their falling in love at 15 and staying together is less common. Tim’s compulsive frankness gives their story not just some of it its drama but also its breathless close-up-ness.”

Holding The Man
Belvoir St Theatre
Until 14 April, 2024


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