HOLDING THE MAN
Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court
Tommy Murphy's play is drawn from the cult memoir by Timothy Conigrave, who becomes the central character in this tragedy.
Not so much Romeo and Juliet – the school play in the opening scenes – as Greek tragedy: we know how the piece will end, and catharsis is a key driver.
Tim, played here by Patrick Willis, is an outgoing young man, who eventually escapes to Sydney and drama school. The love of his life, much more reserved, sporty rather than arty [the title is taken from Aussie rules football] is Jacob Burtenshaw. They make a nicely contrasting couple, though this unflinching look at their relationship is as much about physicality as it is about romance, and it does inevitably favour look-at-me Tim at the expense of the possibly more interesting, but introverted, John. How does he cope with the jocks at school ? Or with his awful father [John Mabey], arguing about who gets what in the will ? How did he become a chiropractor ?
Tonio Ellis, in his first directorial outing, uses a hard-working supporting cast, changing wigs, and gender, to people this shared life. The scene, the sluts, the one-night-stands, the New Romantics, the clinic.
There is much sadness, of course – John's searingly emotional walk into the light, the ending set to Colleen McMahon's Beautiful Boy – but there's lots of fun, too – the awkward GaySoc meeting ["… there is some crossover with the drama society …"] the profanity-rich sleepover [" … come on, Biscuit ! …"]
Set mostly in the round – telling the parents very effective at close quarters; maybe the hotel scene would have worked better on the floor, too – there are some touching monologues, and an effective nightmare sequence.
A very ambitious début. This is not an easy play either for actors or for the audience. It's very much to the credit of CTW that they have revived it, though I did sometimes find myself sympathising with whichever character it was who said "You don't have to tell me everything …".
Jim Hutchon was at the first night for Chelmsford Weekly News: