Recently, I had the opportunity to look in on a rehearsal run of “Holding the Man”, a stage play by Tommy Murphy, who based the script on Timothy Conigrave’s 1995 memoire of the same title. This moving story is beautifully told by 6 actors playing an ensemble cast of more than 20 roles – and the full theatre production promises to be even more compelling. Presented by Big Boots Theatre Company, “Holding the Man” opens on 17th January 2017 at Jack Studio Theatre, closing on 4th February 2017.

Image courtesy Big Boots Theatre Company, London.
Image courtesy Big Boots Theatre Company, London.

A coming-of-age story of love and loss for two young men in Australia

Holding the Man” is the debut production from Big Boots Theatre Company [BBTC], who opened their doors in 2016 with the aim to put on high-calibre fringe theatre in London. Playing at Jack Studio Theatre (17 January through 4 February 2017), Sebastian Palka, the Artistic Director of BBTC, chose “Holding the Man” for the inaugural event because, for him, “today is full of fear and empty of time” and this story contains a timely and urgent “reminder in this disposable society…full of technology that makes us forget about connecting with another person… that it’s important to tell a story about two people who struggle in their relationship, that they can work on it, they can fix it, they don’t throw it away…“.

Palka goes on,

This is a play about love and possibilities… and in the end, what’s more important than love?

The plot of “Holding the Man” centres around the relationship between Tim (Christopher Hunter) and John (Paul-Emile Forman), who meet in their teens, beginning as friends to soon become lovers, a relationship that is sustained over 15 years. Narrated by Tim, the story wanders down a path of his memories that starts a bit nostalgic (with the moon landing, Tim is age 9), winds through some knotty teenage years, and then turns ever more sharply to the stark conclusion (Tim is in his 30s). The remaining 20 or so characters are played by a cast of four (Marla-Jayne Lynch, Dickon Farmar, Emma Zadow, and Sam Goodchild) who manoeuvre deftly between characters simply by changing a single costume element or physical mannerism to become another figure in Tim’s memories – parents, college friends, theatre colleagues, and the like.

(l-r) The cast of 'Holding the Man': Dickon Farmar, Marla-Jane Lynch, Paul-Emile Forman, Christopher Hunter, Emma Zadow, Sam Goodchild. Image courtesy Big Boots Theatre Company. Photo: Nicholas Chinardet.
(l-r) The cast of ‘Holding the Man’: Dickon Farmar, Marla-Jane Lynch, Paul-Emile Forman, Christopher Hunter, Emma Zadow, Sam Goodchild. Image courtesy Big Boots Theatre Company. Photo: Nicholas Chinardet.

Even though I have only seen a dry run, in the barest of rehearsal spaces at the top of the Jack Studio Theatre, under those cold florescent lights, I’m convinced that if these six accomplished actors had been wearing nothing but paper bags throughout, I’d still be wringing the tears out of my hankie at the end. I can’t wait to see this poignant and beautiful story in the actual theatre come 17th of January.

About Sebastian Palka, Director of “Holding the Man”

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Sebastian Palka, the Artistic Director at Big Boots Theatre Company, who directed “Holding the Man“. Over coffee, he shared a bit about his background and his vision for Big Boots Theatre Company.

Originally trained as an actor in Krakow, Poland and Sydney, Australia, Palka has worked in a wide range of roles in TV, film, and stage in Poland, Australia, and the UK. He has also written musicals and directed “Syrena” at the Polish Children Theatre in Hammersmith, London. And in 2016, Palka founded Big Boots Theatre Company in order to put on fringe theatre and other stage productions which ultimately fulfil an overarching “mission and commitment to Equality and Diversity.” Core to the Big Boots philosophy, Palka and his team “believe that being different is an asset and we want to support that by creating an environment where theatre makers can be free to follow their dreams and true self.

He sums up:

Big Boots Theatre Company is a place where passion, talent and commitment are respected, valued and appreciated.

Future productions coming from Big Boots Theatre Company in 2017 include:

Spring Awakening” by Frank Wedekind, a story set in 1891 in conservative Germany in which “Young people on the journey to emancipation and freedom, must pay the price for rebelling against the order and prevailing hypocrisy.

and “Balladina” by Juliusz Slowacki, a 200-year old Polish legend about “an ordinary girl who wants to be loved at any price.”

(l-r) Paul-Emile Forman and Christopher Hunter. Image courtesy Big Boots Theatre Company. Photo: Nicholas Chinardet.
(l-r) Paul-Emile Forman and Christopher Hunter. Image courtesy Big Boots Theatre Company. Photo: Nicholas Chinardet.

More about “Holding the Man”

Event details:Holding the Man” is on at Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH (nearest Overground: Honour Oak Park). Step-free access, tickets are £15 (£12 concessions); suitable for 16+ due to strong language and scenes with adult themes.

For more info and to get tickets:

Dates and times:

17 January – 4 February 2017 @ 19:45 No Sunday and Monday performances

28 January 2017 @ 15:00  This matinee performance is followed by Q&A, free to the public.

Critics say:

  • Review by Gareth Johnson in Gay Star News – 19 January 2017 – “It’s an ambitious undertaking, but they’ve pulled it off – balancing the humour and emotional punch of what has become a much-loved story about love.”
  • Holding the Man review at Jack Studio Theatre, London” by Paul Vale for The Stage – 20 January 2017 – 4/5 stars – “…while this is a remarkably physical production, it is the quiet chemistry between Christopher Hunter as Tim and Paul-Emile Forman as John that stands out…there is much promise here…”
  • Review: Holding the Man” by Sandra Giorgetti in British Theatre Guide – 20 January 2017 – “…for this début production from Big Boots Theatre Company Palka has assembled a skilful cast whose performances give this show the heart that for me was missing in 2010. That is some achievement and I look forward to seeing more of their work.”
  • Review by Claire Roderick for Fairy Powered Productions – 20 January 2017 – “… a fantastic piece of theatre, director Sebastian Palka has created a sympathetic and stunning representation of Tim’s memories, and the stellar cast bring a lump to your throat and tears to your eyes. Go and see it. Take tissues.”
  • “Review: Lovable performers playing likeable characters in a beautiful relationship” by Dayna Jeynes for Everything Theatre – 21 January 2017 – 3/5 stars “The story of John and Tim, bravely taken on by Big Boots Theatre Company, is to be admired… beautifully written … and carefully performed. This production tugs at the heartstrings and leaves you wanting to know so much more about the people you get to know and love through the show.”
  • Review by Hedgie in Clapham Omnibus – 22 January 2017 – “Big Boots Theatre Company are off to a roaring start with this intimate and emotionally searing production…director Sebastian Palka mounts a fluid, fast and smoothly moving production full of imaginative touches and emotional insight.”
  • A time for loving, a time for dying” by Rod Dungate – 22 January 2017 – 4/5 stars – “….worth catching for an impressive professional debut by Forman and an equally impressive London debut by Hunter alone…territory worth revisiting for the quality of the work of this new company…”
  • Holding The Man is ‘a fascinating and compelling production’” by Chris Omaweng for LondonTheatre1 – 22 January 2017 – “Charged and intense, the intimacy of the play suits the Jack Studio space better than the 380-seater Trafalgar Studio One, where I saw a production of Holding The Man in 2010. The final half hour in particular, was so incredibly absorbing. “
  • Review by Dionne Farrell in LondonPubTheatres blog – 23 January 2017 – 4/5 stars – “…will resonate on an emotional level, and speaks to the enduring power of love.”

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