Aug 11 2023 | By More

★★★☆☆    Strong performances

Royal Scots Club (Venue 241): Mon 7 – Sat 12 Aug 2023
Review by Tom Ralphs

Edinburgh based writer cmfwood’s crackers, at the Royal Scots Club, performed by EGTG explores the stigma attached to mental ill-health, particularly amongst teenagers.

With the writer commencing work on the script pre-pandemic and completing it post-pandemic, it seeks to draw on what they saw as an opening up and talking honestly about personal feelings during lockdown and the retreat from this honesty in the time since.

Alastair Lawless, Wendy Brindle, Beverly Wright, Anna Davies, Brian Neill and Mariia Zyhar in crackers. Pic Judith Fieldhouse

Jennie Landels’ stage design sees the proscenium arch stage serve as a GP surgery while the space in front of the stage becomes the home of Will, the GP (Alan Patterson).

Opening in the surgery, Faith (Esther Gilvray) has an appointment with the GP, but while he’s looking at what he can give her to try to help her sleep, she is more interested in talking about the cause of her problem, which is the suicide of her son Ben. Ben had visited the GP shortly before his death and was offered no support. Will struggles to even remember the visit.

Back at home, Will’s wife Mhairi (Wendy Brindle) is a teacher who is planning a protest against lack of funding and attitudes towards mental health services amongst the medical profession. As Will returns home, the two stories play out alongside each other, aided by the set design that allows Ben’s mother and other patients to interrupt the thoughts of Will.

three story lines

A third story line, the depression that Will’s daughter Lyra (played by Anna Davies and also by Heidi Fieldhouse as a younger version of the same character) has suffered from for several years, is also added into the mix. The three storylines are gradually brought together as the reasons for the protest and the links between different members of the family, Lyra’s girlfriend Cherry (Mariia Zyhar) and Ben emerge.

Heidi Fieldhouse and Alan Patterson in crackers. Pic: Judith Fieldhouse

It’s an ambitious idea, but it fails to land in spite of some strong performances. Patterson is cold and distant as Will, disconnected from his family and unable to engage with his patients. He is painted very much as the villain of the piece, and also as a stand in for the medical profession as a whole. While he succeeds in doing this, it is far too much of a broad brush characterisation that may also offend many doctors and others working in the system.

As Mhairi, Brindle has the nervousness and hesitancy that is needed for the accidental revelation that she makes live on the radio during coverage of the protest. But this same nervousness, that makes her unable to get her job title right when she is a teacher in a high position at her school, isn’t convincing as a character trait, and the idea that the interview would go out live to begin with seems implausible.

As Lyra, Davies captures the mannerisms that indicate her inner struggle with depression and her lack of self confidence without ever overplaying them. Fieldhouse as the younger Lyra is similarly understated as she asks her father questions that should be the trigger for him to recognise something isn’t quite right, but somehow fails to notice.

lack of awareness

Zyhar is also convincing as Cherry, confident and supportive towards Lyra but also principled and determined that Ben’s death is not forgotten about.

Will’s lack of awareness of his daughter’s struggles helps to further make him the object of the criticism of the system he represents, but also takes him further away from a believable creation. He is a straw man when a fully fleshed out character is needed.

Alan Patterson and Torya Winters in crackers. Pic: Judith Fieldhouse.

His former partner, Imogen (Torya Winters) fares slightly better in the writing, by being critical of Will, but at the same time she also seems to embody an uncompassionate, somewhat cynical viewpoint when it comes to the treatment of patients. Winters plays the part well, but the part itself seems mired in inconsistencies.

Gilvray as Faith has the haunted, lost look and sound of someone who has become disconnected from the world around her as a result of the trauma of losing her son, and her performance at the end of the play makes her storyline and character development the most satisfying aspect of the play.

The cast is rounded out by Bev Wright as Kathleen, Brian Neill as Ernie and Alastair Lawless as Josh. While all three play their parts well, their characters offer little of value to the plot. Kathleen’s revelation of a long struggle with depression feels particularly bolted on to make a point rather than to drive the story forward.

It is well directed by Claire Wood and Claire Morand, but this can’t disguise the deficiencies in a script that works too hard to get a point across and not hard enough on getting a storyline that works as a vehicle to deliver it.

Running time: One hour and 15 minutes (no interval)
The Royal Scots Club (Hepburn Suite), 29-31 Abercromby Place, EH3 6QE (Venue 241)
Monday 7 – Saturday 12 August 2023
Daily at 6.45pm.
Tickets and details Book here.

Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group links

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Mariia Zyhar and Anna Davies in crackers. Pic: Judith Fieldhous



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