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REVIEW: Holding The Man | La Boite Theatre, Brisbane

Holding The Man means a lot to a lot of people. This production does Tommy Murphy’s adaptation of a seminal book a grave disservice. It’s all played for cheap laughs.

Jerome Meyer and Alec Snow in Holding The Man | La Boite Theatre (Pic: Al Caeiro)

It’s been almost 30 years since the gay community took the first tentative steps towards coming out in what was then a very hostile world. The 1980s saw the beginning of the gay pride movement, and for the first time in the west gays felt able to express themselves fully in what was for some a very flamboyant manner.

Tommy Murphy’s Holding the Man (from Timothy Conigrave’s book) is set in this period, and it’s also the personal story of two real people — Tim and John — and the tragic end to their relationship. So it’s a part of history now, and in one sense a dramatised documentary of two particular people in an important historical time. This makes for a loaded situation for a reviewer, especially for one who was not part of the scene.

The problem is that if you don’t like the treatment of the story, as I didn’t, you can be accused of homophobia. But it’s possible to be sympathetic to the gay community, and count many of them as friends, without admiring or finding funny some of the over-the-top antics, or the intimate details of anal penetration. And I wonder if the audience who shrieked hilariously at Tim’s account of semen running out of his anus after his first penetration would have been so amused had it been a heterosexual women. Just asking.

My problem with the production was that there wasn’t much emotional involvement between audience and actors on the one hand, and characters in the play on the other. It was like the Cartoon Comics version of what should have been a sensitive story, and everyone except the two men at the heart of the plot — Alec Snow as Tim and Jerome Meyer as his partner John — played their multiple roles as high camp. Yes, Eugene Gilfedder, Helen Howard and the rest gave us great caricatures, but they were more like a pantomime version. I found much of it really distasteful, especially as the two leads were very wooden.

I was totally unconvinced by the nightclub scenes, especially the over-the-top queers in drag, and could have done without the mass masturbation scene, too. When a play doesn’t have very much to say, all the outrageous gimmicks in the world can’t make it come alive. Yes, I know that the basic story is deadly serious — I’ve seen the play before — but this time I left at interval, because I couldn’t take any more of the “look-at-me-dahling!” antics and the lack of true ensemble acting.

Gross caricatures, and really bad wigs and costumes, do not a comedy make. As a Melbourne girl, I know students at Xavier College would not have been allowed to wear red gym boots in the ’80s.

I think this production does the original story a grave disservice. It was superficial and trivial, and I longed for some depth of feeling. I think of Dan and Nathan in Angry Boys, and Jonah in Summer Heights High, and could weep for the compassion and truth that was portrayed in those often foul-mouthed and sexually over-active characters. They were very funny, but they had real emotional depth.

Chris Lilley, where are you now that we really need you?

The details: Holding The Man plays the La Boite Theatre until March 16. Tickets via QTIX.

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  • 1
    shitesherlock
    Posted March 1, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Yowza! Well, this review just killed my interest on this play. I haven’t read the book, but I thought this would be great theatre to see. Guess not then!

  • 2
    Nicole Woodward
    Posted March 1, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Seems quite unprofessional to write a review if you didn’t even bother to see the second half of the show…

  • 3
    Marjorie
    Posted March 1, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Ms. Cotes, you acknowledge at one point in your review that criticising the production may open you up to accusations of homophobia. Unfortunately, what shines through in your review is not a criticism of the production – or even the play on which it is based – but an unravelling of your prejudices against particular representations of homosexuality.

    Clearly, you wish for homosexual men to be asexual Ken Dolls, like they were, for so many years, represented on stage and television and popular culture, in supplementary roles with no sexuality or substance. Because the realities of gay sex and queer identity – particularly given the environment of oppression that so many of these men were reacting against – are obviously too much for you to deal with. Hilariously, you even say you don’t have a problem with over-sexual characters like Chris Liley’s personas – how interesting you only identify the straight ones.

    ‘Look-at-me-dahling!’? How condescending. And your suggestion that you want to be ‘sympathetic’ to the gay community again illustrates your clear disconnect from the reality of gay men’s lives, especially in this historical context.

    The point of the sex in the play, and the novel, is to highlight how gay men viewed their bodies, and how they thought they were invincible; this was their way of rejecting a society that had rejected them, making their own rules, and having illicit fun. The tragedy, therefore, is that AIDS was something that stopped them in the act; that reminded them that they were all vulnerable, and for many, it was too late. If you’d engaged with the sexual content and the historical context beyond ‘red gym boots’ at Xavier, you might’ve actually thought about this.

    This review is absolute nonsense, and Ms. Cotes, you have some serious issues to work through. Crikey, I think it’s shameful you’ve sent this woman to review this production – you are supposed to offer an alternative to the misinformed tripe that passes for ‘reviewing’ in the many of the mainstream publications.

    Damning depictions of sexuality fundamental to the substance of a production based on a ‘rude and crude’ mentality is simplistic and reductive. Ms. Cotes should’ve spent the night in with ABC1, ‘Midsomer Murders’ and a cup of milky, lukewarm tea (one sugar).

  • 4
    Daniel Young
    Posted March 3, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m with Nicole. How can you review a play, and presumably be paid for publishing the review, when you left at intermission? Terrible reviewing ethics, and I’m disappointed that Crikey have published it.

  • 5
    Daniel Young
    Posted March 3, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Incidentally, most gay clubs I’ve been to *do* have nightly shows from “over-the-top queers in drag”, so I’m not sure why this didn’t “convince” you. I’m flagging this as worst review ever.

  • 6
    Brown Mike
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    How on earth can a so-called legitimate critic possibly expect to have a ‘crit’ taken all that seriously when he/she leaves at half time? No matter how ‘over the top’ the production may have been for he/she, the free tickets should surely have been enough to justify staying until the final curtain calls? No matter how familiar the critic may have been with the storyline/plot, if it didn’t appeal right from the start, why the hell not give the tickets to a critic who may have been less biased to begin with?

  • 7
    dARCi B. Bear
    Posted April 20, 2013 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    This is the worst review I’ve ever read. You don’t even have full knowledge of the play!
    I’ve seen the play and I can tell you it is very unique!
    The first half of the play is based COMPLETELY on humour as the main characters are young and lively. It laughs at the awkwardness of being a gay teenager in the 70′s.
    The second half of the play however is literally the complete opposite. It is darker and infinity more emotional, with not a single joke said. By the end there was not a dry eye in the audience.
    ATTENTION PEOPLE!
    DO NOT judge the play on this review! It is an amazing play and you will love it!
    Enjoy!

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