Heartbreak High’s Thomas Weatherall shines in his stage debut

Thomas Weatherall in his play debut.

Thomas Weatherall in his play debut.Credit:Thomas Mayer

He paints a lyrical picture of his childhood in a loving family, sharing trips to the sea with his adoring older brother, John.

The set-up initially appears to be a typical coming-of-age tune – with plenty of libido and burgeoning romance – before darker undercurrents unfold.

The play consists of short sharp scenes in which Mark repeatedly points out something unspoken, something nobody wants to talk about. Each time he does this, he throws in a joke or humorous anecdote to divert attention.

Then the excuse stops. He admits that as a teenager he was depressed and contemplated suicide.

And that’s before tragedy tears his family apart and turns his colorful childhood home gray. As a result, Mark spirals down so low that he is hospitalized, treated, and sedated.

When he finds his way back, he and his mother bond by writing letters – yes, that odd old-fashioned form of communication – to each other. Writing becomes Mark’s lifeline, even in the face of further pain.

He grows in the understanding that life can create both beauty and suffering and that there are no easy answers.

Weatherall, a Kamilaroi man, is an engaging storyteller. His writing style is crisp and poetic. As a performer, he holds the stage completely throughout the 90 minutes.

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He has a warmth and vulnerability and moves with the fluid grace of a dancer. For the realization of the work he wrote as part of his 2021 Balnaves Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Fellowship with Belvoir St, he has found an ideal director in Deborah Brown, with her background in dance.

Jacob Nash and Cris Baldwin’s sculptural, curving set worked well in conjunction with David Berman’s video designs. The harsh white was reminiscent of the blinding summer sun and the sterility of a medical facility. But the use of water, let into the stage like a wet grave, was less successful and felt unnecessary.

Best known for his AACTA award-winning role in the reboot of heartbreak high, Weatherall writes in a program note that he suffered from depression as a teenager but felt ill-equipped to talk about it. He hopes his play will stimulate discussion on the subject.

This is an impressive debut from a talented young artist who writes and performs with freshness and vulnerability. He brings courage and the wisdom of experience to the difficult issue of adolescent mental health.

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https://www.smh.com.au/culture/theatre/heartbreak-high-s-thomas-weatherall-shines-in-his-playwriting-debut-20230119-p5cdoi.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_culture Heartbreak High’s Thomas Weatherall shines in his stage debut

Jaclyn Diaz

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