I was supposed to be seeing Polar Bears at the Donmar but my boss asked me if he could swap tickets as he'd doubled booked and so with an evening free I booked to see Holding the Man instead. And I'm glad I did because I probably wouldn't have gone to see it otherwise.
One of it's stars is Jane Turner of Kath & Kim fame of - I am fan but not quite as much as some in the audience, more of which later. She plays lots of different characters, including men, in the life of Tim Conigrave, who grows up in Melbourne during the 70s and 80s and realises while young that he is gay. It is also a love story about his long term relationship with John Caleo.
Its based on the memoir of writer/actor Tim Conigrave, something I didn't realise until the very end of the play. And something else I didn't realise until reading the programme on the bus on my way home is that Jane Turner knew Conigrave as she went to the same drama club and plays a lot of people she also knew. It meant I was probably the only person in the audience that wasn't expecting the change in tone in the second half!
While the play doesn't say anything new about homosexuality and how different people react to it, it is nonetheless both a compelling story and an entertaining play.
The first half is very funny and the second half is very sad. Turner got spontaneous applause several times which I thought a little bit generous. She is very good in a Kath sort of way. The real praise must go to the two central actors Guy Edmonds and Matt Zeremes who play Tim and John.
My criteria for good theatre is that I am moved in some way or entertained. Holding the Man gave me both.
Here are what some others thought:
The Guardian gave is three stars believing it was missing some details: 'While the play undeniably works, it leaves much unsaid about the sexual tensions in Australian society.'
What's on Stage was a little more generous with four stars: 'Edmonds and Zeremes are utterly convincing as the mismatched but eternally committed lovers, veering from mutual recrimination to resigned passion as the killer virus stalks and consumes them.'
West End Whingers were not moved and gave it three glasses of wine out of five: "On the one hand it is a fairly humdrum, over-long, dispiritingly linear piece of theatre but on the other hand its heart – which it wears on the capped sleeve of its 80s T shirt – is undoubtedly in a good place, based as it is on a relatively moving true love & death story about two gay men who die of AIDS."