In Tell Me Anything, David Ralfe relays the ups and downs of the central romantic relationship of his teens, with Kate, a girl with an eating disorder. Balanced against this Ralfe hints at his own lifelong anger and anxiety issues. However, the efforts of “driven” teen David to support his girlfriend and the glimpses of the “moody” adult David do not connect up. We need to bridge the gap between then and now and get some perspective on the intersection of these mental health issues.
Ultimately Ralfe and his role in the “the eating disorder” tale take center stage, offering the point of view of someone coping with a partner’s eating disorder. We primarily hear from adult David and the book he’s read about ED care, and teen David and how he lived with the secret of Kate’s illness.
When I was a teen I was in a similar situation and the fear of being the only one who knows about someone’s eating disorder can eat away at you. But even if this is meant to be David’s unique view of events, it feels odd to live with his voice alone. We have one peek at Kate’s own words—it’s a relief to finally have some direct contact with her rather than everything mediated by David. But it is fleeting.
Moreover, the battle between David and Kate’s illness may well be subterfuge to mask and obscure David’s own mental health struggles. But he never directly comes out and says that.
Ralfe tries to use the language he has learned about eating disorders as an adult to relate to his teen self. He employs an inflatable dolphin on stage to represent a healthy strategy to partner care—like a dolphin saving a swimmer they provide “warmth, guidance, and gentle nudging.” Naturally he wants to be seen as the dolphin and put a retrospective gloss on what he did as a teen to show how he provided the right kind of support. But he is also an unreliable narrator.
Moments from his present are awkwardly woven into the “Kate story.” Rather than see them as characteristics of David’s behaviour all along they come across as distracting asides. The parallels he’s trying to draw between past and present are forced. I’m left wondering who he is and what’s he getting at.
At the start of the show, the inflatable dolphin makes it seem like this will be a show where we might find humour and release despite the difficult subject. But there is limited levity. Ralfe attempts some light-hearted audience banter at the opening but otherwise his delivery is suffuse with self-seriousness. The solemnity and silence in the piece is oppressive.
Eating disorders are complicated, messy, and important to talk about. I’m not suggesting they require jokes but the approach here makes a difficult story all that much harder.