Fifteen-year-old David Ralfe knows that with “warmth, guidance, and gentle nudging”, Kate, his anorexic girlfriend, can be guided towards a healthier existence. But life is always messier than its theoretical counterpart — and there is just so much mess to contend with: Kate’s family, who don’t know and then don’t want to know about their daughter’s illness; an incompetent, patronising NHS; and Ralfe’s own desire for control. Although (his diary insists) he is “pretty cool under pressure”, this might just be too much for anyone to deal with.
demonstrates a masterful control over the audience’s emotions, yanking heartstrings this way and that
Over a decade later, standing onstage in Summerhall, Ralfe’s narration of his story is interweaved with excerpts from his old diary, which are full of youthful optimism, naïvety and anger — a reminder of a time when everything felt that little bit more intense. The heroin-high of being in love for the first time; frustrations with parents (his own and Kate’s), and with school; anger at his stupid, shallow schoolmates, and at glossy body-trashing magazines most of — all feature prominently. Most of all, though, the diary entries are about Kate: Tell Me Anything is a chronicle of the near-intolerable joys of utter devotion, and the aching sadness of seeing a loved one wither.
The set is minimal, yet phenomenally effective, supplementing Ralfe’s strikingly honest performance with a rich layer of visual storytelling. A metal chair and glass cube occupy either end of the stage, which is otherwise cluttered with thin, grey cylinders. Ralfe gingerly negotiates this odd, knee-high forest, occasionally disrupting the order as his 15-year-old self tries and fails again and again to assert some sense of control over the unenviable circumstances in which he finds himself.
Ralfe himself — as the writer, narrator, and partial subject — is the lynchpin of the show; so it’s fortunate that he is a capable, charming ringmaster. He demonstrated a masterful control over the audience’s emotions, yanking heartstrings this way and that, conjuring dead silence and peals of laughter as the moment demanded. (Yes, laughter: for a show about an eating disorder, Tell Me Anything is surprisingly funny.)
Like On The Run’s previous, show, So It Goes, Tell Me Anything centres on an experience which people often find too difficult to even begin to discuss. On The Run’s skill, sensitivity and uncompromising candour makes this courageous production a worthy addition to a necessary conversation.