Your parents can really mess you up- isn’t it true? That’s what this play is all about. Whether they mean it or not, despite best intentions, parents can often have an adverse effect on childrens’ lives.
Cracked is set mostly in a school, from the perspective of a teacher. The two principal adult characters are this teacher, a man named Mike who teaches Geology, and a woman named Shelby who has just started her teaching career at the school (alarmingly, she only has three GCSEs, but she does know her rocks). Mike also has interactions with a mysterious character named Cavelle, an imaginary friend who mainly manifests as anxiety for him- often bullying him using examples from his childhood into not doing certain things, such as socialising with the other teachers. There’s also Mr. Evans, a strict teacher, who clearly has his sights set on becoming the head, and young Stewart Skinner, a pupil whom Mr. Evans is hell-bent on expelling.
Mike sees himself in Stewart- a troubled young man with family problems who doesn’t fit in. Stewart’s smart but the teachers just have it out for him, blaming all the school’s problems on this one student. Stew eventually gets expelled, but Mike so wants to see him pass the geology exam that he ends up teaching him outside of school. This of course looks a little dodgy to say the least when the other teachers find out, and puts Mike’s own career on the line.
There is also an exciting sub-plot about Mike’s crush on Shelby, who, having been home-schooled, is even more of a nerdy outcast than Mike or Stewart, but also happens to be attractive in that quirky nerdy girl kind of way. Will they, won’t they, etc. Every time she enters a classroom, wolf whistles erupt from the boys, and there are a few euphemisms about handling rocks from the other teachers. Mike might possibly score some cool-points here. If only he could stop being a bumbling oaf…
Initially this is where I thought the problem might lie with Cracked: a bunch of actors playing miserable nerds? Excuse me but we all know that actors are the most charismatic, sociable people around- it’s always going to be hammy. But by the end this didn’t matter at all, I was very impressed by the way they all carried out their roles.
A special mention must also go to an excellent set design. Reminiscent of a jungle-gym in a school playground, all the characters (except perhaps the prim Shelby and the sincere Mr. Evans) climb all over the scaffold, taking sofas and desks out to represent different scenes including Mike’s flat and his little office in the school.
And that’s before we even mention the puppet which stands in for young Mike, with the older Mike standing behind him, channelling his every move. Another excellent piece of set design which would seem to have wider impacts on the storyline.
I don’t wish to spoil it anymore for you, I knew very little about the play going in and was really pleasantly surprised. If you’re in school and you want to know what the teachers get up to behind the scenes- what are their darkest fears?- you might well love this play, as might anyone who is looking into a career working with young people. Where do we set boundaries, and why?
Tom saw Cracked at the Blackwood Miners’ Institute- it will be arriving at Cardiff’s Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama on February 16th. More dates and info available at https://www.crackedtheplay.co.uk/.