Based on the book by Anne Deveson, Directed by Leticia Cáceres
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
Tell Me I’m Here contains adult themes, scenes of violence and suicide and the use of strong language.
20 Aug – 25 Sep Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney
Anne Deveson’s memoir Tell Me I’m Here tells the story of her son Jonathan, a charming young man who transforms into a tormented soul as he is diagnosed with schizophrenia. Written and adapted for the stage by Veronica Nadine Gleeson, Belvoir’s Tell Me I’m Here focuses on the heart-wrenching journey of Anne as she comes to the realisation that her child is going mad.
Directed by Leticia Cáceres, the adaptation from page to stage is artfully done. Stephen Curtis’ set is stark white, with a large oak table and a towering bookshelf filled with bits of Anne and her family’s life. The stage is quite literally a blank canvas through which Jonathan’s (Tom Conroy) decaying mindset is painted upon throughout.
Anne Deveson (played by Nadine Garner) a renowned filmmaker, broadcaster, and author is the storyteller here. Through her eyes we witness the chaotic intensity, the agonising nights and intense revelations of profound inner fragility and psychosis in Jonathan. We come to know Anne through Garner’s narration and revel in the courage she shows as she seeks to ease the suffering of her son, and care for the rest of her family at the same time.
Gleeson adapts Deveson’s book for the stage through defying the stereotypes of sufferers and highlighting the ignorance of the medical profession in the 1980’s. Through the beginning of Jonathan’s life, to his initial diagnosis, and the slow decay of his character, Gleeson honours Deveson’s story. There were, however, moments throughout that could have been removed for less repetitive storytelling and letting hard-hitting moments breathe.
Garner’s Anne is stoic, shouldering the weight of protecting her family and enduring the prejudice against her son. When she comes to her breaking point, Garner is raw and honest, but not without splashes of humour.
Tom Conroy’s performance as Jonathan is enthralling. We see Jonathan as his playfulness and intelligence, as well as his madness. We are helpless as we see Conroy take Jonathan through the highs and lows, the lucid moments where you think maybe everything will be alright, just to then be hit with an outburst of violence.
Supporting Garner and Conroy, Deborah Galanos, Raj LaBade, Sean O’Shea and Jana Zvedeniuk play a variety of roles, from doctors, husbands, brothers, sisters, police, goth punk friends and horrific naturopaths. O’Shea has a dry wit and playfulness and instils the piece with much-needed catharsis to break up the raw and emotional beats.
Remarkably moving, rich in emotion and superbly acted, Tell Me I’m Here doesn’t want to scare you or trigger you. Instead, the production asks you to think beyond the stereotypes, and remember the human underneath the psychosis. As one character states, “I’m not an allegory of horror, I’m a human being.”
Tell Me I’m Here plays until September 25. Tickets can be booked at belvoir.com.au
If you or someone you know suffers from recurring, persistent or complex mental health issues and trauma, SANE provides support for sufferers, families and friends. More information can be found at sane.org
Tom Conroy Jonathan
Deborah Galanos Ensemble
Nadine Garner Anne
Raj LaBade Joshua & Others
Sean O’Shea Ellis, The Architect & Ensemble
Jana Zvedeniuk Georgia & Others
Playwright Veronica Nadine Gleeson
Original Author Anne Deveson
Director Leticia Cáceres
Set Designer Stephen Curtis
Lighting Designer Veronique Benett
Composer and Sound Designer Steve Francis
Composer and Sound Designer Alyx Dennison
Costume Designer Ella Butler
Dramaturg Ruth Little
Choreographer Charmene Yap
Fight Director Tim Dashwood
Accent/Vocal Coach Laura Farrell
Assistant Director Claudia Osborne
Stage Manager Luke McGettigan
Assistant Stage Manager Holly Fernanda
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