Playwave Creative

REVIEW: Holding The Man

Holding The Man
Presented by Belvoir St Theatre
Review by Alexandro Gould-Arocha 

Holding The Man is a beautiful, tragic tale of two lovers whose world is turned upside-down because of AIDS. Belvoir breathes new life into this intimate portrait of Queer Australian history. 

When I first walked into Belvoir St Theatre, I had no idea what to expect from the production, only that I knew a few of the cast and that this play is queer as. For some, it may have been considered a love story that defined a generation, but I had never heard of the play or the memoir it is based on. 

A little after settling into the transformed theatre, which evoked a strong 1970’s theme, the performers taught us a dance that would be used later in the performance. It was definitely one of my favourite parts of the show as we danced to music under disco balls and flashing lights later in the show. I also saw moments of characterisation from core cast members, including from John Calleo (Danny Ball) who was listening to music in the corner.  



This beautiful new production is directed by Eamon Flack, Belvior’s artistic director and is adapted from Timothy Conigrave’s memoir by Tommy Murphy.  

Tom Conroy embodies the flamboyant, passionate Tim Congirave with such energy and complexity that captures the audience by the end of the play. Danny Ball plays the reserved, loyal and grounded John Calleo whose layers of complexity really allow you to connect and empathise with this character.  

Guy Simon is part of the ensemble and in one role plays the iconic, progressive mother of Juliet. He almost steals the show in quite a few scenes. Shannen Alyce Quan plays Juliet amongst other roles and brings a strong sense of compassion and care to all the roles they embody. Russell Dykstra plays both Conigrave's and Calleo's fathers amongst others and humanises both so well. Calleo's father is stern and conservative, and his characterisation feels so authentic that it almost makes you shudder.  Rebecca Massey plays Congriave's and Calleo's mothers, as well as several standout roles. It is easy to empathise with her characters, and I found myself really liking Conigrave's mother. 

The play’s pacing was phenomenal. Act 1 was a hilarious and at times playful, showing a recollection of the early stages of their relationship, exploring many different characters, locations, and moments in Tim’s life.  

“My life has gone by so fast.” 



Act 2 had a much more sombre tone to Act 1, it still had moments of comedy, but I couldn’t bring myself to laugh as I was captivated by Conroy’s performance as he details the nature of John’s illness. The lighting became cooler, and there was a very noticeable tonal shift in the characters and even in the audience.  

Throughout the play, the physical comedy really shines. We see actors taking a movement class portraying different animals, simulated sex, and even a circle jerk. These moments dynamise the performance and add an extra layer of energy and joy. The performance never feels static and even in the sombre moments, there is always something to leave you on the edge of your seat. 

The play’s intimate moments between characters are portrayed so beautifully and highlight how special the relationship was. It was so beautiful yet bittersweet to see these two lovers find each other at such a young age, something which a lot of young queer people today might be envious of.  



The production design had an aesthetic that didn’t feel modern, yet was quite familiar, transporting us back to the 1970’s. Mel Page's costume design was brilliant and was quite important and well-thought out as many performers had to switch between characters.  

Stephen Curtis’ set design was outstanding and transformed Belvior into a theatre in the round. The colours and patterns were very 70’s and felt quite grounded during most of the play. At one point, the space was transformed into a nightclub, achieved by incredible lighting (Phoebe Pilcher) and sound design (Alyx Dennison), and the audience got involved with the choreography (Ella Evangelista) that we learnt before the show.  



The set featured multiple disco balls, with one serving as an important symbol. The play opens with Tim and another character (played by Guy Simon) as they explore their sexuality through a game set against the moon landing. The ensemble brings a prop space shuttle which lands on the moon, and Tim is sent into a euphoric frenzy as he flies into the air. In Act 2, a HIV-positive wheelchair-bound character (also played by Simon) says to the older Tim, that, 

“A space shuttle crashed.” 

This moment really highlighted how the gay and broader queer community had their whole world turned upside down when HIV started infecting people. It also strengthened the contrast between Act 1 and 2, making the heartbreak even more impactful.  

“If thousands of school kids dropped dead, they’d do something. No hope if you’re a poofta, or a sex worker, or a drug addict.” 

Holding The Man reminds us that this story didn't happen so long ago, and under all the progress that the community has fought for, are very recent struggles. Before this play, I wasn't aware of how recent these events were, and the impact of AIDS within an Australian context. It was also interesting to see well-known and progressive institutions like NIDA within this time and how different they are today.  

It is the sort of play that sits in your mind for a long time. On the train home, I couldn’t shake this sorrowful feeling, a weird mix of mourning, isolation, and graciousness.  


You can read Alexandro's creative response to Holding The Man here

Holding The Man is playing at Belvoir St Theatre until 14 November 2024. Tickets can be purchased here.

Production images by Brett Boardman 

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