Falling in love with the captain of the football team at an all-male Melbourne high school in the 1970s was never going to be universally accepted. Holding the Man follows the highs and lows in the relationship between Conigrave, who found being young and gay exciting but uncharted territory, and John Caleo, his lifelong lover of 15 years.
According to the press release, it’s an “an achingly funny and heartbreaking true life story” ... “that speaks across generations, sexual preference and culture”. Both men were diagnosed with HIV in the mid-1980s and died of Aids-related illnesses, Caleo in 1992 and Conigrave in October 1994.
Holding the Man was first published in 1995, just a few months after Conigrave’s death. It has since won the United Nations Human Rights Award for Non-Fiction and been reprinted 13 times around the world. The term “holding the man” comes from Australian Fules Football and refers to a transgression that incurs a penalty.
Tommy Murphy’s stage adaptation of Conigrave’s autobiographical book premiered in 2006 at the Griffin Theatre in Sydney, before numerous other sell-out seasons there and other venues including the Sydney Opera House.
Jane Turner created, wrote, produced and starred in Kath and Kim with her long-time collaborator Gina Riley. In addition to myriad awards, the sitcom has earned its place as one of the most syndicated shows in Australian television history. In Holding the Man, Turner will be the only female in a six-strong company. Casting for the male roles, including those of Conigrave and Caleo, has yet to be announced.
In London, Holding the Man is directed by David Berthold, the former artistic director of Griffin who also helmed the original Australian production, and designed by Brian Thomson, Whatsonstage.com Award nominated for the musical of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, now playing at the West End’s Palace Theatre. It’s produced by Daniel Sparrow (All About My Mother) and Mike Walsh OBE.