Soho Theatre, London – until 8 December 2018
Lisa Carroll’s razor-sharp play is vividly brought to life thanks to Debbie Hannan’s perceptive and emotionally engaging production.
Powerfully engaging and relatable, Lisa Carroll’s play Cuckoo perfectly captures what it means to be an outsider trying to fit in – particularly in a generation in which social media can have a particularly vicious impact on lives as highlighted during this strongly performed production.
But writing this review is deeply personal to me as watching Cuckoo brought up my own memories of being at school desperate to fit in and liked by my peers. Throughout Debbie Hannan’s raw and intense production, there are flashes of moments that reveal just how much I can identify with both Pingu (Elise Heaven) and Iona (Caitriona Ennis) and how each of them deals with being isolated. That isn’t to say that I ever experienced the same brutal level of torment that Pingu and Iona went through – but I have felt the way they felt at various times during my own school years.
Sick of being bullied and isolated from their peers and wanting a fresh start away from Dublin, best friends Pingu and Iona decide to move to London – a city filled with opportunities and a chance to start again. But their plan doesn’t go according to plan when cool kids Pockets and Trix attempt to make Iona stay – and offer her a chance to fit in.
With its sharp script, Lisa Carroll’s play beautifully builds up the tension and unease that the audience is increasingly aware of as both Trix and Pockets attempt to catch Iona’s attention with their true intentions never made clear until the final brutal scenes. But Hannan’s production also captures and highlights the key themes that emerge from the play to great effect – including identity, gender and friendship to offer a truly contemporary coming of age story. It captures the pain, anger and frustration of the characters that causes them to lash out at each other to strong effect – the moment in which Iona finally lashes out at Pingu and pours the rest of her beer on him is particularly a powerful moment.
The performances of the cast captivate and hold the audience’s attention to great effect in different ways. Caitriona Ennis as Iona is all swagger and attitude on the surface but the sense of her character’s vulnerability and desperation to be accepted is beautifully portrayed. Elise Heaven as Pingu doesn’t speak a word throughout, but is wonderfully expressive throughout that the audience is never left in doubt of what they are communicating – the anger and pain towards the end is actually the more powerful for merely being expressed rather than spoken. Meanwhile, Peter Newngton as Trix and Colin Campbell as Pockets are suitably nasty with just a hint of charm to keep the audience suitably uneasy about their intentions and utterly convincing throughout.
It has to be said, it does take some time for the play to settle down and you can’t help but want to know more about why Toller (Sade Malone) and Iona’s friendship broke down in the first place as well as a bit more insight into Pockets and Trix’s background to make them the way that they are. In particular- it feels as though there is more to Pockets than meets the eye but is never really explored.
However, despite this, Cuckoo is a sharply written play and brought life perfectly in Debbie Hannan’s raw and engaging production.
By Emma Clarendon
Cuckoo continues to play at the Soho Theatre until the 8th December. For more information visit: https://sohotheatre.com/shows/cuckoo.