Saturday, January 21, 2017

Holding the Man

Big Boots Theatre Company are off to a roaring start with this intimate and emotionally searing production of Tommy Murphy's dramatisation of Timothy Conigrave's memoir. Finished only two weeks before Conigrave's death from an AIDS-related illness in 1994, the work is a monument to the love of his life John Caleo.  The book won the United Nations Human Rights Award for Non-Fiction in 1995. Murphy's dramatisation has itself won numerous awards and has been made into a film. The last production in London was at the Trafalgar Studios in 2010.

At the Jack Studio Theatre, director Sebastian Palka mounts a fluid, fast and smoothly moving production full of imaginative touches and emotional insight. The intelligent and robust direction means the story never becomes confusing, despite the tiny ensemble cast performing multiple roles, changing costumes and making set changes on stage throughout.

The leads are well cast physically: Christopher Hunter as Tim and Paul-Emile Forman (making his professional debut) as John make a handsome couple with striking chemistry. Hunter emanates an easy appeal and charm which holds the audience's sympathy despite his character's sometimes dubious choices, but for me Forman's luminous John is the emotional bedrock of this work. Written knowingly with guilt as an elegy, John is idealised to a degree which could make him remote - it is a huge credit to Forman who finds the human being in this role and so compellingly inhabits him.

There is good work from the ensemble who mesh strongly as a team. A stand-out is Marla-Jane Lynch, very enjoyable in all her characters but especially affecting in her role as John's mother.

Design and sets are wisely kept low-key and minimalist. I thought the musical and sound choices were appropriate and emotionally helpful, but perhaps a touch too loud in this very intimate space.

Jack Studio
17 Jan- 4  Feb 2017

Photographs courtesy of Nicolas Chinardet