By: Cathryn Macey, TRP Reviewer
How do you like your eggs? Fried? Scrambled? Boiled? However you eat them, you’re unlikely to crack one over your mother’s head when you’re preparing breakfast are you? But this is exactly what writer/performer Shón Dale–Jones does when he visits his ill mother and it lands him in deep, deep hot water with the locals.
Partly based on real events, Cracking is a play about the mother son bond, village mentality and the subjective nature of humour in an increasingly sensitive world. It’s an unusual but hilarious and heartfelt look at our society and its many contradictions.
After watching the play, you won’t be surprised to learn that its writer and performer Shón Dale–Jones won an award for the radio version of Cracking. You meet him as you enter The Drum but you might initially mistake Shón, dressed in black and wearing arty specs, as an enthusiastic usher or perhaps an overzealous Director keen to monitor the “audience vibe”. It’s soon apparent that the nerdy looking guy with the dishevelled grey hair is our storyteller for the night.
His friendly façade starts to lift a little when we sit down as he encourages us to be “be quiet.” Shón’s manner switches to that of a slightly frustrated supply teacher. This flustered introduction sums up his complicated fictional personality; he’s amiable yet also a bit irritating. We try and figure him out as he begins his original account of life after he receives “the call” during a particularly stressful writing assignment.
“The call” is the one we all dread. His mum is seriously ill and awaiting test results. Deadlines are quickly abandoned and Shón drives as quickly as he can from his base in Bristol to his hometown of Anglesey, North Wales. He buys his mum lilies and gives her a massive, comforting bear hug. But, Shón’s mum isn’t one for deep chats about death and instead wants to indulge Shón in their favourite joint hobby; larking around. It starts innocently enough in the supermarket when they mess about with cans of baked beans but soon things take a more a sinister turn (in their neighbour’s eyes) and Shón cracks an egg on his mum’s head.
It’s weird but just part of a family tradition that started when he was eight and making pancakes for the first time. A nosy neighbour sees him crack the egg on his mum’s head and automatically assumes the worst; Shón is clearly abusing his mum and needs to be kicked out of the village. Immediately.
It is definitely a strange plot yet the way it is told keeps you completely hooked. The idea that a relatively innocent act can cause so much outrage and an online and offline witch hunt is worryingly believable in 2023.
Apparently, Shón didn’t want to over egg his impersonations of the array of awkward local characters he meets back home and so his portrayal of characters like his nosy neighbour and his mum’s best mate, Aileen, are delivered on different microphones but are more reliant on a soft Welsh accent and well written dialogue as opposed to costume or a change in Shón’s physicality. It works.
His portrayal of Aileen is the best impersonation of the evening. She tells Shón that his mum has “kept her alive” and delivers a touching speech about how looking after his mum at this time is his “most important” job ever.
As well as spot on impersonations throughout, sound is used to amplify the mood. Controlled by Shón himself, classical music is played when he describes his mum watching birds circle at sunset and more ominous sound effects are used to exaggerate shock when he enters his mum’s attic and realises she has cleared most of it out already.
Cracking covers some heavy subject matter ranging from death, depression to mass organised vigilante attacks. It shouldn’t be an enjoyable evening but it is.
Huge credit to Shón and his team (including composer John Biddle) for creating this stunning play that somehow shows us how hope can shine on even in the darkest hours. You absolutely must catch this gem of a show while you can.