Just two weeks out from La Boite's 2013 season of the intimate love story "Holding the Man" I caught up with actor and player of eleven roles in the show; Eugene Gilfedder
Tell me a bit about "Holding the Man" and how you feel it's placed in the 2013 La Boite Season.
"Holding the Man" is a play by Tommy Murphy it's adapted from an iconic novel for the gay community of the world really but particularly of Australia, it was written by a guy called Timothy Conigrave. He wrote it in the last two years of his life and then died of AIDS, but the focus of the book is on his boyfriend, what he sometimes terms as his husband a guy called John Caleo who had died two years previously of AIDS. The writing of the book kept Tim Conigrave alive they say, once John, his lover had died he worked for two years trying to get a recounting of his relationship. It's one of those tragic stories about the AIDS epidemic of the 80s. They lived through the 80s and many people I know died during that time of AIDS as well. It's the story of the tragedy of that disease but it actually hangs on it being a love story between two men. It's a very forthright and warts and all study of a love story. It's success hangs on what the audience feels about those two men Tim Connigrave and John Caleo played by two very bright young actors Alec Snow and Jerome Meyer. It will rely on them. The rest of us play multiple roles. What Tommy Murphy has done with the book is turned it into a pretty vital piece of theatre and very obvious and an open piece of theatre.
We're seeing a heightened interest in LGBT issues, particularly civil rights issues, how do you think this play enters into those debates?
I think the play is not an angry play, this is the unusual thing about it. "Angels in America" and plays like it are very strong and have anger and a political tension in them. The unusual thing about this is that it is in AIDS story without anger and I think it leaves it to the audience to make up their mind about those issues. It doesn't address those issues, it's not a play up in its podium banging its fist about gay rights at all. I think that's nice. As I said, the audience is given the honest story of a gay relationship and its' difficulties and its' certainly not simple or straightforward, there are a lot of difficulties that happen in the relationship but it comes through despite the disease that effects both of these people and we're left looking at two people. That's the special thing about it, it's not a political play, it's not pontificating at all. In its' way it has its' own satirical commentary on the gay community and gay rights activists.
It sounds like a very technical play, you talked before about the many roles the ensemble cast plays?
I think it's an ensemble piece and hugely theatrical in that way. It should be very entertaining, I have eleven roles to play, and I think Helen Howard and Lauren Jackson and Jai Higgs all have eleven roles. So between us we play about fifty roles! I think the audience will enjoy it.
Have you played quite so many roles before?
Yeah! It's part of an actor's dream really. Actors enjoy that. Audiences enjoy that. They're all micro-scenes. The story proceeds at a lightning rate. There are lots of small scenes and the play moves quite quickly and time running out becomes a part of a theme. It's a very interesting thing and if we get it right the audience should have this sense of time is disappearing. It's particularly poignant in view of the disease that the two men have. We all play in these very small scenes.
Two of the characters you play, I believe its the two Fathers, have almost polar opposite points of view. Can you speak to the challenge of presenting such different characters?
That's good fun for an actor! Tim's father was quite accepting of Tim's life but John's father was quite adamant and against what John did and to this day in truth remains quite removed from the whole situation. Even after Tim's book become an incredibly famous book among the gay community and beyond as a potent story, John's father remained removed. In terms of it being difficult? I'm glad there's a difference because then I can contrast them. Bob Caleo is a gruff man and Dick Connigrave is a very open man, it should be fun.
What kind of patronage are you expecting at the season of "Holding the Man"?
I can see that inevitably the play speaks very directly to the gay community in Brisbane. However, I think as time goes on Australia is moving forward. We're a long way from the Patrick White era in terms of its' taboos and its' fears. Here we are in the twenty first century and it's amazing how rapidly a whole population can shift and change in its attitudes. I think people support La Boite as they have come to productions over these recent years they have had an exposure to a greatly diverse set of productions. Particularly here at La Boite it's the place for topical theatre and I think David Berthold is very keen to retain that and audiences that come here enjoy that edge.
Eugene Gilfedder stars in the 2013 La Boite staging of "Holding the Man" Bookings, tickets and more information is available through the La Boite website http://www.laboite.com.au/cms/page.asp?ID=6