Theatre Review: Belvoir’sTell Me I’m Here shines a light on mental illness and will leave you stunned

Tell Me Why I'm Here

As the applause dies down and the lights go up, the audience glances at one another, glassy-eyed and slightly dazed. What had we just experienced? It felt as if we had witnessed open heart surgery – while the person was still conscious – and the thought uppermost in my mind was – how the hell am I going to write about this?

Based on Anne Deveson’s acclaimed novel of the same name, Tell Me I’m Here at Belvoir is an emotional exploration of schizophrenia and the impact this can have on those closest to you. We are introduced to Anne (Nadine Garner) and her family, husband Ellis (Sean O’Shea) and three children, Joshua (Raj Labade), Georgia (Jana Zvedeniuk) and Jonathan (Tom Conroy).

Growing up Jonathan was always quiet and slightly distant from others, but it is not until his teenage years that it becomes apparent that his behaviour is more than simply introversion. He begins to display signs of paranoia and irrational anger towards those around him, especially Anne. Finally, he is diagnosed with schizophrenia, but this is just the start of the family’s struggles.

Written and adapted by Veronica Nadine Gleeson and directed by Leticia Cáceres, Tell Me I’m Here is an honest, and at times brutal depiction of mental illness and how difficult it can be to get help. Time and time again the systems in place became more of a hindrance than a help, and we bore witness to this cycle of hope and devastation and the never-ending frustrations of a mother who just wanted her son back.

Nadine Garner is incredible as Anne. Her character forms a centre point for the narrative, and it is her voice we hear, her thoughts we’re privy to and her despair we feel. This is as much her story as it is Jonathan’s and Garner thoroughly embodies this performance. Raw, vulnerable and completely open, the audience could not only see her pain – we felt it.

Tom Conroy’s performance as Jonathan was beyond words. Every movement, every twitch, and every facial expression was deliberate and heavy with meaning. His stage presence was purposeful and weighted, as he flung his body around, moving between large, sweeping movements and physically closing in on himself. His physical expression became an indication of his internal struggles, as he used the floor and walls to draw, the images becoming increasingly darker as he became more lost.

Tell Me I’m Here is a roller-coaster of emotion, both for the outstanding ensemble cast, (which also includes Deborah Galanos in various roles but most notably as another mother whose son has schizophrenia), but also for the audience. It’s a testament to everyone involved that the myriad of feelings being expressed on stage could so easily be felt by those watching it. The audience left feeling stunned, shaken and knowing that they had just witnessed something truly exceptional.

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Reviewer attended on 25 August 2022.

For more information and to buy tickets head to the Belvoir website.