Cuckoo by Lisa Carroll
Soho Theatre (Short walk from Tottenham Court Road Station) until 8th December
Runs 1 hr 50 minutes
Review Info: Veronica Stein, November 19, 2018
Sometimes we escape in the hope someone will ask us to stay…
Iona and Pingu are the odd couple of Crumlin. She is boisterous and desperately wants to prove her worth to others, and Pingu has decidedly taken a vow of silence; they don’t need to answer to their bullies anymore. Nevertheless, the two find solace in each other against their cruel peers, like Toller, one of Iona’s childhood friends who has predictably become her tormenter, and Toller’s cousin and his best friend, Pockets and Trix. Packing up and moving to London without completing their leaving certs sounds like a fantastic plan to get out and fulfill their awesome potential- until suddenly the prospect of popularity materialises…but at what cost?
Cuckoo is formidable, tackling hefty topical issues like gender identity, poverty, and perhaps most ambitiously, the mind of the adolescent. Like Salinger and even Shakespeare before her, she locates a compelling balance between punchy comedy and merciless devastation, oftentimes within the same moment. Though Pingu and Iona are exceptional in Crumlin, their desires are universal, like all great coming of age heros and heroines. Although the characters are compelling, the true hero of the writing is the dialogue: largely unpredictable but never completely outside of the realm of truth, the one-liners and emotional moments are gripping but never let you settle.
Despite the strength of the dialogue, Elise Heaven as Pingu manages to resonate with no speech, and crafts a performance that makes the audience lean in a bit closer. Sade Malone (Toller) lends truth to a role that could be easily stereotyped as a one-dimensional mean girl, her brusqueness and rare moments of softness are equally authentic. Peter Newington as Trix provides comic relief in a familiar but nevertheless skilled smarminess and Colin Campbell’s Pockets is appropriately hard to pin down, his capacity for tenderness present but unclear to what degree. Rounding out the symbiotic and entertaining cast is Caitriona Ennis as Iona, who has managed to accomplish what few can- create a performance wherein it’s difficult to tell what brings what out of what- that is to say, does she elevate the writing, or does the writing bring out her best? She is so enmeshed that is difficult to imagine the play without her at the center of it. She is captivating and relatable all at once, and even though her success in the brassiest bits cast a shadow of doubt on her efficacy in awkward and upsetting moments, she delivers.
The cast and micro elements of the script shine, but there are some missteps that detract from the production as a whole. The ending of the play seems to hurtle to a conclusion and then not quite know what to do with the leftovers- with a run time of 1 hour 50 minutes and no interval it would seem wise to develop and extend the ending and then add an interval. Debbie Hannan and Quan Kien Vai’s respective direction and movement direction add texture and maintain the suspense of intense moments- along with making traverse staging work (a rarity)- but there are some solo interludes that attempt to get the audience ready for subsequent events that are not entirely necessary. Elise Heaven’s work is strong enough that we know their anguish without watching them crumble between scenes.
These detractors are completely overshadowed by the efficacy of the brilliant cast, writing, and overall direction. Much like adolescence itself, Lisa Carroll’s newest work feels like a meteor in motion, blazing with wit and intensity but careening towards an uncertain conclusion. A reminder of how our obsession with our own potential may foil our greatest plans, Cuckoo is funny, poignant, and highly entertaining, One to see.
Pockets: Colin Campbell
Iona: Caitriona Ennis
Pingu: Elise Heaven
Toller: Sade Malone
Trix: Peter Newington
Director: Debbie Hannan
Set & Costume Designer: Basia Binkowska
Lighting Designer: Jessica Hung Han Yun
Sound Designer: Dominic Brennan
Story Development: Mary Nighy
Movement Director: Quang Kien Vai
Produced by Metal Rabbit Productions
Photo by David Gill