Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 20 – Sep 25, 2022
Playwright: Veronica Nadine Gleeson (based on the book by Anne Deveson)
Director: Leticia Cáceres
Cast: Tom Conroy, Deborah Galanos, Nadine Garner, Raj LaBade, Sean O’Shea Ellis, Jana Zvedeniuk
Images by Brett Boardman
Jonathan has schizophrenia, but he is not the only one who suffers its consequences. The story is told from his mother Anne’s perspective, who for obvious reasons, has to keep her wits about her, and is therefore extremely level-headed. Tell Me I’m Here is a stage adaptation by Veronica Nadine Gleeson, based on the 1991 memoir of the aforementioned Anne Deveson. We see the chaos created by Jonathan’s illness, along with a certain stoicism that Anne has to cultivate, in order to manage the challenges presented by her son’s condition.
There is a monotony to the hopeless exasperation expressed in the play, as well as an unrelenting frenzy brought on by the mental disorder. The story often feels stagnant, which is probably an accurate representation of Anne and Jonathan’s lives, but director Leticia Cáceres injects a great amount of energy to the staging, so that our attention is consistently engaged, even if our emotions tend to reflect Anne’s impassive pragmatism. Cáceres also ensures that characters are always depicted with dignity, as we explore the vulnerabilities of their difficult existence. The lead performers embody those admirable yet unenviable qualities with great aplomb.
Nadine Garner plays Anne, with an impressive exactitude that offers fine balance to the naturalism that she instinctively delivers, for this tale of parenthood and heart break. Tom Conroy is inventive in the role of Jonathan, and is suitably wild with a performance memorable for its radiant humanity. The unyielding intensity from both, are given moderation by a jaunty ensemble of four performers, Deborah Galanos, Raj LaBade, Sean O’Shea Ellis and Jana Zvedeniuk, who offer a sense of buoyancy, to a show that is at its heart, full of despondency.
Set design by Stephen Curtis features an imposing bookcase, stuffed with exemplars of breeding and sophistication, as though a reminder that all the refinement in the world, cannot prevent a person from the trauma that life will invariably dispense upon them. Costumes by Ella Butler bear a whimsical charm, that firmly positions all the personalities we encounter, in a realm that straddles perfectly, between theatricality and authenticity. Veronique Bennett’s lights are dynamic, almost busy, in their attempt at providing visual flourish, to accompany a narrative of the disturbed mind. Sound and music by the duo of Alyx Dennison and Steve Francis are beautifully accomplished, able to convey nuanced textures for an emotional landscape that can otherwise feel too static.
Nature is cruel. The gift of life, comes with the surety of death, and in the process it seems no one leaves unscathed. Even those who are perceived to be awarded a charmed life, must think that the challenges that they do face in private, to be the hardest thing. To witness the torment of those in Tell Me I’m Here however, is a sobering reminder that there are indeed worse spaces to find oneself.