Soho Theatre, London – until 8 December 2018
Iona (Catriona Ennis) just wants to fit in, be one of the cool kids rather than the target of their ridicule and bullying. Her best friend is Pingu (Elise Heaven) is non-binary, wears a tuxedo to school and has decided not to speak, but that’s okay because Iona talks enough for both of them.
Set in Crumlin, a suburb of Dublin, writer Lisa Carroll’s play Cuckoo follows Iona and Pingu over a couple of fateful days when they announce that they are moving to London. It is a decision which catapults them into the spotlight in a way that they never anticipated.
Iona has a sharp, often witty and descriptive way with words and the play opens with her enthusiastic and colourful recounting of a shoplifting trip. Pingu’s silent reactions speak volumes and Iona’s story, while laugh out loud funny, paints a picture of a life where having a good TV and wearing the right labels are the difference between being accepted and being bullied.
That particularly landscape hasn’t changed much over the decades but Carroll’s teenagers also have to contend with smartphones and social media, where every scrape, argument and practical joke is a potential video to be laughed at on Snapchat. Iona is a funny, bubbly, car crash character – you can see her driving towards the collision but can’t look away.
Her relationship with where she grew up is one of love and hate.
While it is a place that makes her deeply unhappy, unhappy enough to want to run away, deep down what she really wants is to be accepted so she can stay.
Pingu is a lovely character but also slightly problematic.
While Heaven does a superb job expressing without words and creates some of the most poignant and amusing moments in the play, in making Pingu non-binary and mute it feels like there is far more to the character than the play actually exposes.
Curious to know more
You learn so much about Iona but Pingu feels like an enigma and I was curious to know more.
Carroll’s play brilliantly captures the challenges of growing up and establishing your own identity, the tension between being yourself and trying to be like everyone else.
She mixes laugh out loud moments, keen observation with quiet, reflective moments that give the play a poignancy and I’m giving it four stars.
It is one hour and 40 minutes without an interval and you can see it at the Soho Theatre Upstairs until 8 December.
If you want to learn more about the play, its themes and the writing process, read my interview with Lisa Carroll and click on the video to more production images.
Production photos: Cuckoo, Soho Theatre from Rev Stan on Vimeo.
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