Actor true to Tim’s AIDS journey tale

MOVING MEMOIR Holding the Man actor Dan Musgrove with the first AIDS memorial quilt created in 1988 to remember victims of the disease.
MOVING MEMOIR Holding the Man actor Dan Musgrove with the first AIDS memorial quilt created in 1988 to remember victims of the disease.

A fresh face on Auckland’s theatre scene is holding his own in a play about love, AIDS and football.

Dan Musgrove will take to the stage of the Herald Theatre tonight as Tim Conigrave in Holding the Man, an adaptation of Tim’s autobiographical memoir and one of Australia’s most popular books.

The play depicts the true story of Tim’s life-long relationship with John Caleo, the captain of a school Aussie Rules football team, and the pair’s journey together during the time of the AIDS epidemic in Australia in the mid 1970s.

Dan says he was immediately struck by the extremely personal nature of the play and how well playwright Tommy Murphy had captured the book.

"I’ve never read a play that’s as personal as this," he says.

He says there’s a certain amount of pressure when performing a true story.

"I feel a lot of responsibility," he says.

"I really want to tell Tim’s story."

Dan, who has had to perfect his Australian accent for the play, says it’s also a labour-intensive piece to perform.

Out of the 56 characters, performed by a small group of actors, he is the only one who doesn’t leave the stage for the entire show, despite several hurried costume and wig changes.

"It’s a really crazy, intense play to perform," says Dan.

He says the challenge of playing a gay character has been made easier by the fact he’ll be doing the love scenes with old friend, Charlie McDermott, who plays Tim’s lover John.

Having acted together in a Shakespeare group while at high school, the two visited and performed at the Globe Theatre in London before going their separate ways.

Dan says he was pleased to find out he’d be acting out some of the intimate scenes with a friend.

"You want to feel quite safe with the people you’re acting with."

He is already a well-established face on the performing arts circuit in his native Wellington, graduating from The New Zealand Drama School, Toi Whakaari, in 2007.

Since then he has co-written two award-winning plays, Blinkers and Spurs, with fellow actor and girlfriend Natalie Medlock and appeared in plays at Wellington’s Bats and Downstage theatres.

He moved to Auckland in 2008 and his work with the Ensemble Project, a project the Silo theatre runs to find new talent, got him noticed quickly.

Holding the Man, being produced by the Silo theatre company has won numerous awards since it was first adapted for stage in Australia in 2006.

New Zealand AIDS Foundation director of HIV prevention and communications Simon Harger-Forde says bringing the work to New Zealand will be a timely reminder that HIV transmission is at an all-time high here.

"While Tim and John’s diagnosis in 1985 predates the advent of antiretroviral treatments, it’s important to recognise that for people living with HIV it continues to adversely affect them every single day."

Holding the Man opens tonight at the Herald Theatre and runs until August 29.

Tickets are $20 to $39, available from

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