Soho Theatre, London – until 8 December 2018
It was the pair of shoes. Stolen, ninja-like from a store, worn for a matter of minutes then ripped off her feet by the estate Mean Girls. It was the footwear that became the straw that broke the camel’s back. Iona has had a gutful of Crumlin and has her heart set on the bright lights of the City of London and wants to take her friend Pingu with her.
Lisa Carroll’s Papatango shortlisted debut has the subject of identity stamped on its DNA. It raises questions about the value of where you are from and what does moving away from there do to you. It also provokes with that age-old adage of being able to take the girl out of the town but not the town out of the girl. It also plays with the dynamic of archetypes on a collision course.
With Pockets and Trix, you have the tracksuit-wearing bad seeds of the town. They are the chancers and opportunists who, when not training, are looking for the next conquest. Peter Newington’s Trix is pure danger. Skulking around the stage, he is ready to pounce. This is a guy on edge and his hunter like scowl is never far from your eye line.
Colin Campbell’s Pockets, however, is more complicated. At first, he appears cut from the same mould as Trix. As the Dublin Musketeers, they create and pursue chaos and their sinister actions often drive Carroll’s narrative. It’s when he’s separated from his partner in crime that a softer side appears and vulnerabilities take over.
Both Campbell and Newington and in full control of their material and provide the deafening thud to the rhythm of the piece. Likewise, Sade Malone’s Toller is never clear-cut. The new owners of Iona’s stolen footwear, she rarely shows glimpses of the ghosts of friendships past, but when she does, it shifts the dynamic of the piece significantly.
The real heart and soul of this magnificent new piece of writing is Caitriona Ennis’ Iona and Elise Heaven’s Pingu. Here you have a friendship that stands the test of time. Except when it doesn’t, when ego gets in the way, it has disasterous effects and causes shock waves throughout the community.
Heaven doesn’t utter a single word throughout the piece however their physical language, inner rhythm and physical presence alone should be a template for future productions. All too often, writers rely on too many words. Here, Carroll creates an inner monologue for Pingu and Heaven’s command of their material is both devastating and beautiful.
Ennis drives the piece as Iona. Stuck in a crummy town, she has one chance to get the hell out and battles with ego and a promise to fulfil a major dream, her performance is a powerhouse that matches the thumping soundtrack of the piece.
Director Debbie Hannan has crafted a masterful production, clocking in at nearly two hours, into a slow burning theatrical king hit that demands your attention.
Cuckoo is relentless, ruthless and one of the most captivating productions of the year.
Cuckoo runs at the Soho Theatre until Saturday 8th December 2018
Pictures by David Gill via the Soho Theatre