King’s Head Theatre
Reviewed – 1st March 2020
“an absolutely necessary piece of writing, performed with informed sensitivity and restrained potency”
There’s a line from Radiohead’s ‘Black Star’, the first line, “I get home from work and you’re still standing in your dressing gown. Oh what am I to do?” Depression doesn’t just happen to one person, but so often we forget that, focusing solely on resolving or managing the actual depression and leaving collateral damage to fix itself.
‘Alright Mate?’ has noted and seeks to remedy the distinct lack of discussion around the effects of postnatal depression on a partner. In particular, they note that not only are men less fluent in expressing their emotions, but no-one is even really asking them whether they’re ok- the NHS is required to check in with mum, but there’s no such requirement for dad.
Sam (Tom Bowdler) and Rachel (Georgia Robinson) have been through a living hell, and finally they’re out on the other side: Rachel has thankfully recovered from her postpartum depression, she’s back at work, and their baby Tommy is happy and well. But something still isn’t quite right and their relationship is suffering for it. Through various therapy sessions, spliced with throw-backs to their relationship both before pregnancy and after, we see Sam continue to struggle with his emotions and how to express them, despite everything being seemingly back to normal.
Both Bowdler and Robinson show the full range of their characters, in moments of jubilance and deep misery; naïve confidence and crushing weariness. Bowdler in particular makes some very relatable choices, laughing uncomfortably even when he does manage to display some vulnerability.
Production is as bare bones as you could go, with only two sets of chairs serving as the whole set. But what with the script being based largely on verbatim interviews, it would feel disingenuous to employ any serious bells and whistles- when the text is this emotive, you don’t really need much else.
Writer and co-founder of ‘Alright Mate?’ Cally Hayes has created ‘Cracking’ in a form in which it needn’t be performed in a theatre space and in fact it’s touring, not just in community spaces and libraries, but also, more unusually, barbershops. Men are often loyal to the same barbershop for years and, according to ‘Alright Mate?’, end up in a fairly intimate bond with their barbers. This is an attempt to bring the message of communication and shared experiences to men who are otherwise unable to talk about their experiences with postpartum depression, which purportedly effects 1-26% of fathers, a statistic unfortunately hard to pin down seeing as no-one wants to talk about it.
On the one hand ‘Cracking’ is clearly an educational tool, created with the purpose of spreading an important social message. On the other though, it’s a deft and succinct piece of theatre. Perhaps it isn’t ideal for a big night out, but it is an absolutely necessary piece of writing, performed with informed sensitivity and restrained potency, and it deserves a much longer London run.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
King’s Head Theatre until 2nd March
Previously reviewed at this venue: