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REVIEW: Holding the Man: A timeless story of endless gay love and loss

REVIEW: Holding the Man: A timeless story of endless gay love and loss

Holding the Man at Above the Stag in London

Holding The Man is a powerful romantic gay drama adapted from the 1995 memoir of Australian writer, Timothy Conigrave.

It tells the story of Timothy’s 15-year-long relationship with his childhood sweetheart, John Caleo. The pair met in an all-boys college in Melbourne and quickly fell in love.

On top of their love life, the movie also covers Timothy and John’s growing up together, and the hardships they as gay men faced back in the 70s and 80s.

John Caleo ​(Ben Boskovic) and Timothy Conigrave (Jamie Barnard)

Holding the Man is one of those stories that has you hysterically laughing one minute and then uncontrollably crying the next.

It’s a rollercoaster of emotions and the play adaption is unique to a timeless and award-winning classic.

As a gay Australian who read the book in my teens, no other story is more relatable for me. No other book has made me sob quite like it, and no other book is closer to my heart.

The story documents the complete life of Timothy (played by Jamie Barnard), starting with his life in primary school. The play opens to a scene with a boy from his school named Damien, who he experiments with. He would be about 9 years old.

It quickly progresses to his life in high school, talking about a crush on John (played by Ben Boskovic).

‘John Caleo, will you go ’round with me?’

Then there’s a beautiful moment where Tim asks John to be his boyfriend while they’re talking on the phone. This simple, stripped back performance was incredible and you could feel the chemistry between the two male leads.

The supporting cast play characters like Tim’s best friend Juliet (Faye Wilson), childhood friends, university friends and Tim and John’s parents.

And then comes the circle jerk scene. The hilarious scene shows Tim’s friends in a furious circle jerk, as Tim comes out to them and reveals his relationship with John.

As the two grow up together, Tim becomes increasingly worried he’s missing out on sexual experiences with other men. So he cheats. And cheats. And cheats. It doesn’t stay completely true to the book, but the same sentiment applies – Tim doesn’t deserve John.

Spoiler alert

The two eventually get back together but discover a complication in their relationship – they’re both diagnosed with HIV.

The second act documents their life together living with the debilitating illness. With ups and downs, the cast masterfully navigate their way into a sensitive topic.

There is one scene however, that completely left me clueless about what was going on. Tim seems to be having a hallucination, all the while writing a script for a play, with dialogue from other actors in the background.

As an Australian, one striking thing was hearing Brits try to do a subtle Australian accent. The main cast were seamless, but some of the ensemble cast seemed to dip into stereotypes of an Aussie accent that always end in an inflection. In parts, this became distracting and over-the-top.

It was a stand-out performance from Tim (Barnard) but particularly John (Boskovic). The latter encapsulated the boyish charm of John in the book, particularly his coy shyness.

In the final scenes of the play, all cast brought their A-game, with a moving performance on John’s deathbed. Special mention to the ensemble cast member who played Peter for his performance in the final scene, you could see the raw emotion on his and Tim’s faces.

All around a very moving performance with a timeless story. Four stars out of five.


Holding the Man is playing at Above the Stag in London until 21 October.