At the end of the 2010 West End production of Tommy Murphy’s Holding The Man, his adaptation of Tim Conigrave’s novel about his relationship with a guy named John, I was so distraught that I wept in my seat at the Trafalgar Studios for several minutes. So the prospect of seeing it again was one I approached with caution, even as Big Boots Theatre Company intrigued me with their production at the Brockley Jack.
Holding The Man is much more than your conventional relationship drama though, covering as it does their love affair from the mid 1970s until the early 1990s and thus staking its place as a first-hand documentation of the ravaging impact of the arrival of HIV/AIDS in the worldwide gay community. It is brutally, unflinchingly honest and as such, transcends any notion that the material is dated or that such plays are no longer relevant.
Sebastian Palka’s direction has a decidedly theatrical bent in the way it approaches the story, allowing for a lo-fi aesthetic to dominate with its multi-roling company. But there’s no mistaking that the play works best at its simplest – Christopher Hunter’s Tim and Paul-Emile Forman’s John giving us the ins and outs of a real amour fou, a great all-time love cruelly cut short by the era.