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Find out why Holding the Man’s both beautiful and devastating – review

PBG Studios / Above The Stag

Another hit from Above the Stag Theatre – the UK’s only LGBT dedicated performance space.

This stunning play, based on the true-life memoir of Timothy Conigrave, tells the story of a gay man’s life in 20th century Australia – from schoolboy awakenings in the 70’s, through the outbreak of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 80’s, and up to the tragic consequences of the 90’s. This energetic and engaging production, skilfully directed by Gene David Kirk, is simply a masterpiece – one that cunningly seduces us with wit and whimsy – capturing our hearts so that it can smash them to pieces them in the second act. Both beautiful and devastating.

An extremely talented cast keep things moving at a rollicking pace – short scenes and constant leaps forward in time ensure that there is always something new to hold our interest. A gloriously anarchic undercurrent of silliness imbues the show with a joyfulness that is impossible to resist – there are some serious laughs to be had before the narrative arrives at its rather heavier conclusion. Highlights include a pant-wettingly hilarious group masturbation scene, and the most bitingly accurate encapsulation of the drama school experience that we’ve ever witnessed.

Leading the cast with a bravura performance is Jamie Barnard as Timothy Conigrave, who seriously impresses with a captivating characterisation, subtly ageing as the play progresses, and creating a masterful portrait of man battling desperately with love and loss. Ben Boskovic, as Timothy’s lover John, gives us a smoulderingly understated interpretation – ensuring that we all fall for him as just as much as Tim does. Boskovic’s handling of John’s descent into illness is particularly accomplished.

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PBG Studios / Above The Stag

Superb support comes from an ensemble cast who each take on a variety of roles. Liam Burke and Annabel Pemberton take on the more mature parts, including sympathetic and layered turns as the parents of our two leads. We also hugely enjoyed Pemberton’s hysterical cameo as the only lesbian at a university gay group meeting.

Faye Wilson delights as universally recognisable ‘straight friend’ Juliet, and Robert Thompson demonstrates great versatility in a some wildly varying parts. Stealing the show, however, is Joshua Coley – who really gives us our money’s worth with some outstanding performances, including John’s nurse, and, perhaps best of all, Juliet’s mother. Coley has a natural flair for comedy and extraordinary stage presence. One to watch.

The set is a triumph of design from David Shields – an abstract pattern of light-framed geometric shapes that can be switched and moved as the narrative requires, working symbiotically with the superb lighting from Jack Weir and the period music from sound designer Andy Hill. All these elements combine to perfectly complement the script with a real treat for eyes and ears.

The eventual tragedy of the piece is handled with sensitivity and care. The subject matter on display here has been explored many times, but rarely have we seen these themes executed with such skill. This is a vital piece – the truth of one man, but also the truth of a generation. Ultimately this is a love story – one that honours the memory of the man who lived it, and does him great service by continuing to echo his words through the years. One of the finest, most accomplished plays that we’ve seen in a long time – don’t miss.

Gay Times gives Holding the Man – 5/5

More information can be found here.

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