It’s fair to say that the majority of young people and adults will be affected or know someone who has been affected by mental health issues in their life. Cracked tackles mental health head on and shows how important your childhood relationships are and how they can affect you later in life. Writer Emily Hinshelwood explains in the pre-play programme that Cracked – doesn’t aim to come up with answers but hopes to trigger a discussion. I found myself sitting there not necessarily comparing my own experiences to the main protagonist but revaluating my childhood experiences and how they might have had an effect on my adult life.
Cracked follows our main protagonist Mick, Tom Mumford, as he tries to juggle his job as a secondary school Geology teacher while struggling to create positive and healthy relationships. We learn early on that his conscious/imaginary friend Cavelle, played by Catriona Jones, cripples every social engagement he has through manifesting his anxiety, sometimes even bullying him into making decisions by bringing up past experiences that have hurt him physiologically in the past. This is the battle that Mick faces through-out Cracked, how does someone overcome the inner voices?
As the play goes on we are introduced to Shelby and Mr Jackson, played by Frances Keyton and Dick Bradnum respectively. Shelby plays the love interest to Mick and they learn early on that they share very similar interests… rocks. Their mutual interest in geology makes conversation easy at first but Cavelle in on hand to remind Mick that social interactions are not that easy, throw in Mr Jackson’s strong approaches to every social situation and the tendencies to vaguely mirror Mick’s father, it all makes for a very interesting ride.
When you think it all can’t get much more complicated, throw in Stewart, played by Joe Wiltshire Smith, a young troubled student that Mick takes a shine too. Always finding himself in trouble, Stewart entrusts the only person who is willing to listen and he unveils his darkest secret to Mick. It’s very easy to punish young people for acting out in an educational setting or even in everyday life, what’s important is trying to understand why they’re acting that way. Mick sees a bright young man who is struggling at home and looks to help him successfully pass his geology exam while fighting his own inner voices.
For all the good work Mick does, he walks a fine line between showing kindness to a young person and staying professional and adhering to safeguarding policies. This all takes place around a school jungle-gym that allows the performers to move pieces of the set to reflect the scene that’s most appropriate. A brilliant set design that can change from a school teacher’s office to roaring cliffs at the seaside in seconds.
I’m always apprehensive about plays that tackle mental health issues as it’s very easy to send the wrong message and get it completely wrong. However Director Louise Osborn gets it spot on. Credit to the whole team at the Pontardawe Arts Centre.