INTRIUGING and thought provoking are the best words to describe The Old Well Theatre’s latest production, Fractions.
Fractions is based on the true story of Moffat resident Janey Mitchell giving the audience a window into the lives of the Mitchell family from 1956 until the 1990s.
It is very quickly established that the Mitchell’s are not a happy family. The mother Lizzie is emotionally abusive to her husband John and physically abusive towards her daughter Janey whilst her son Michael remains the apple of her eye.
John is a hen-pecked husband who barely knows his children as he works long hours to provide for his family and to avoid his wife’s temper.
Lizzie’s half brother, Owen is struggling with his own family situation and temporarily moves in with the dysfunctional family.
The children, Janey and Michael, are never seen on stage but it is clear that they are regularly left to their own devices.
Whilst the play doesn’t have any out and out action it is very easy to see that there is something darker going on than the conversations the audience see going on around the kitchen table.
All of the male characters seem to have a keen interest in Janey, leaving the audience to put two and two together all whilst her mother Lizzie routinely complains about her misbehaviour and disrespectful attitude.
All in all the cast rose to the daunting task of portraying real people, there were no major blunders from any of the actors and each of them attempted to bring some depth to their character.
Sandra Jerrett gave a competent performance as matriarch Lizzie. Quick to anger and to throw a plate, she flipped the stereotype of an abusive spouse on its head.
Adrian Kershaw played the role of John the hen-pecked husband very well. A man clearly worn down by years of physical labour and verbal abuse, never smiling except during a brief interaction with his brother-in-law where they exchanged a series of dad jokes at the kitchen table.
Josh Mendy made his Old Well debut as Lizzie’s half-brother Owen, he held his own amongst an experienced cast delivering his lines well.
Elysha Ramage had the difficult task of portraying a grown-up Janey Mitchell. She brought a vulnerability to Janey that was moving particularly when she began to retreat into herself as she came to terms with the abuse she had endured. Her final monologue was very impressive, she delivered it in such a way that had the audience hanging on every word.
Daniel Bevins’ kind and caring portrayal of Janey’s husband Tom was a reassuring presence on stage amongst the chaos of the other Mitchell family members.
Myrtle Little and Chris Jerrett played their roles as family friends Nell and Ernest nicely, giving the audience a glimpse into the Mitchell’s life outside of the home.
However, there were some pacing issues with Fractions that took away from the themes and message of the play.
First off, it could’ve easily been a one-act play. The scenes were short and the use of radio news bulletins and songs from each era clearly indicated the passage of time. The only major set change of the play was when the the focus of the play shifted from the lives of Lizzie and John to that of a grown-up Janey and her husband Tom. A more creative approach to set design or larger stage crew could have cut 20 minutes off of the play’s running time.
Also there was an overuse of the blackout, particularly in act two. The second act opened with Janey and Tom in their wedding outfits, they said I do and exit stage left. Blackout. Janey and Tom chase each other around their living room and exit stage right through a door. Blackout. Janey and Tom come back into the room still chasing each other and exit through a door stage left. Blackout.
From an audience members perspetive the multiple blackouts were jarring and unnecessary.
That’s not to say there weren’t some excellent moments during this production.
In the closing moments Janey confides in her husband about the sexual abuse she survived, as she does the other characters stand at the back of the stage in a line similar to a police line-up.
Throughout the play it is heavily implied that she was abused by her uncle Owen and family friend Ernest but one by one each character is revealed to not be Janey’s abuser, leaving the audience puzzled for a brief moment before they realise who the culprit is.
At its core Fractions has an important message about abuse, that it can come from the most unexpected places and can still affect a victim years after the abuse has occurred.
Overall this production was a difficult watch, not because of the cast but because it forced the audience to look into the face of an issue they would normally shy away from.
It did what it set out to do and challenges the perception of who commits the abuse and for that the cast, crew and playwright should be applauded.