The story of Holding The Man has held a special place in Australian hearts since the day it was published in 1995. Acclaimed as one of the nation’s favourite 100 books, and the winner of the UN Human Rights Award for Non-Fiction, it crossed all boundaries to become an international favourite.
Eleven years after the publication of Holding The Man, the love story of Tim and John is about to be told on stage in a new adaptation by playwright Tommy Murphy and director David Berthold.
The play is set for a world premiere season by the Griffin Theatre Company at the SBW Stables Theatre -“ ironically the same theatre where the book’s author and central character, Tim Conigrave, spent much of his theatrical life in Sydney in the mid-1980s.
Holding The Man chronicles Conigrave’s experiences as a young gay man growing up in 1970s Melbourne, who fell in love with the captain of the football team at their Catholic private school. Their love story was to endure a roller coaster ride of joy and dramas over the following 15 years, until both men ultimately died of AIDS.
Former All Saints star Guy Edmonds has been cast as Tim, while Matt Zeremes will play John. Nicholas Eadie and Jeanette Cronin are also in the cast.
Edmonds admits he read the book only a matter of months ago, but says it had a profound impact on him. Holding the Man broke my heart -“ I have never been hit by a book like that, he says. It has every possible emotion in there, and is a beautiful story about unconditional love and why in life we continue to make the same mistakes we do.
When I finished reading it -“ after I finished crying -“ I knew I had to play the role of Tim. I knew this is a story I’d like to tell. The day I got the role was the best day of the year.
The play spans 25 years of Conigrave’s life, from the ages of 10 through to his death at 35. It also focuses on his love of theatre, his student years at NIDA, his career as a performer and playwright of the seminal AIDS play Soft Targets, as well as his role as an activist when the AIDS crisis hit Australia in the 1980s.
While a screen version has been discussed for years, it was David Berthold who decided to revisit the book last year and asked his collaborator, Tommy Murphy, to see if the story had a future on stage.
When Murphy said he could see definite possibilities as a play, the pair began work on the project.
It is a love story and is about why we hurt the people we love, Berthold says. The story is about how a relationship endures so much -“ tension, separations, betrayal, families and illness. And through all of that, the thing that remains is a really pure love. It is so honest and very evocative for its time and that generation.
I read the book the first day it came out, and have read it many times again, as well as Tommy’s script version, and I keep waiting for the time when the effect wears off, but it never seems to happen.
We decided the experience of watching it in the theatre has to be the same impact of reading those last 50 pages. If it doesn’t do that, we will have failed. But I think we are on the right track.
Holding The Man opens 9 November at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross. Bookings on 1300 306 776.