Wednesday, July 31, 2013


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 d├ębut. 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:

Holding the Man’ is a multi-layered play based on the author’s own life, which is long on emotion and short on stagecraft. It was an ambitious task for new director Tonio Ellis to take on, and was possibly a step too far. The director has to make this intractable play work, and I feel this was too loose, and with too few dramatic highlights to draw the audience in. Setting it ‘in the round’ and having most of the action on stage was a pain in the neck (literally).

The play is the author Tim’s emotional response to the death through AIDS of his long time companion John, touching en-route Tim (played by Patrick Willis) and John’s (Jacob Burtenshaw) teenage reaction to their sexuality, and their progress through life. There was little sense of time or place throughout the play, and with a lot of mumbled dialogue, it became progressively more difficult to follow. (Though the Aussie accents were immaculate throughout).

There were some lovely imaginative cameos. The shuffling off of John’s mortal coil was handled with real dexterity. And a vicious sideswipe at reactionary parent values when John’s father tries to ‘divvy up’ his son’s belongings at his deathbed.

Mr Ellis will go further, and I look forward to his future productions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not a bad first attempt but there was no need to set it in the round. Would've worked perfectly well on the stage as there was no real set to speak of. Not all that well cast either, much like a lot of the season so far.

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