Having a baby is supposed to be one of the best things that can happen to a couple in their lives. And for the majority that is true, but for roughly 1 in 10 women, the experience is not great and they suffer postnatal depression. Quite rightly, there is a wide range of services available to support a mother suffering from postnatal depression but, what about the other people in their lives, the ones that live with the effects of the illness? Who do they have to support them? This idea is explored in Cally Hayes’ one-act play Cracking which I saw at the Kings Head Theatre.
Rachel (Georgia Robinson) and Sam (Tom Bowdler) are having troubles in their relationship. They have come to a counsellor to try to get to the root of their problems and find a solution. Things could be said to have started to go wrong when Rachel gave birth to their son Tommy and then suffered with a severe form of postnatal depression. As Rachel shunned her son, she also turned her back on her life and everything in it, including Sam. The illness got worse and Sam was left with coping with both his new-born son and his partner who either stepped away from things or was begging him not to leave her while coming up with horrific ideas about how to get their lives back to where they were before Tommy came along. Slowly Rachel has recovered and now, two years on, she is a loving partner and doting mother, who bitterly regrets those early days of Tommy’s life. However, things have changed and Sam has become quiet and introverted and this is having a negative effect on their relationship, hence the counselling.
Mental illness among men does not exist. Yes, when my friends and I get together and we do a round ‘how are things going?’ the answer is always the same – ‘everything’s good’. After all, we are men, and men do not talk about their feelings to other men, do they? Unfortunately, the statistics are not good. According to Mental Health UK, it is estimated around 1 in 8 men have a common mental health problem and in 2017, 75% of suicides recorded in Great Britain were men. Indeed, suicide represents the largest cause of death for men under 50.
Cracking is a fantastic play for highlighting this. The writing is based on couples who have gone through what Rachel and Sam have which is why it feels so real. At one point, Sam talks about meeting his mates and not talking about the problems at home because he just wants to get away from them, and thought he could handle things himself – does that sound familiar? Sam is not going to let himself down in front of his mates, and it takes a complete stranger to bring him to the point of bringing his feelings out into the open. Even then, he cannot fully let go and apologises whilst bringing himself under control. I have to admit, I really could identify with Sam, as he employed tactics to avoid opening up that, at times, felt very familiar.
Georgia and Tom truly excelled as Rachel and Sam, looking and feeling like a genuine couple going through something. The quality of acting where, in an instant, they would move from a horrendous flashback of Rachel at her worst, to a smiling couple sitting in a counsellor’s chair, was first-rate. In addition, there were sections where their story was told by movement only and, again, not a moment was missed thanks to the quality of both actors telling a story without words.
Cracking has been brought to the stage by alrightmateproject.com an organisation that creates art projects that aim to normalise conversations around male mental health, and this play certainly does that. At around an hour, it may not be long but, it is an entertaining way of broaching a taboo subject and really delivers a powerful message to all the men out there – including me – that it really is OK to feel the way you do and there is nothing wrong with talking about it.
Review by Terry Eastham
Three days into motherhood, Rachel didn’t recognise herself. There was nothing Sam wouldn’t do to keep his family together. Practical and hands-on, he stuck with it, held his tongue and eventually Rachel got better. So why are they now sitting on a therapist’s couch tumbling back into the past and Sam in real danger of losing his footing?
Inspired by interviews with couples who’ve recovered from postnatal illness, Cracking combines refreshingly honest new writing with testimony and vibrant physicality.
A new play by Alright Mate? co-founder Cally Hayes about love, loss and parenthood. Cracking takes an intimate look from a father’s perspective about what happens when you survive the worst but now risk losing everything.
Kings Head Theatre
1-2 March | 7PM