Cuckoo at Soho Theatre
London is a mythological destination, a kind of “Oz” for the characters in Lisa Carroll’s Cuckoo, directed by Debbie Hannan. For two bullied misfits, it is a promised land where they can be what they want and define themselves socially.
Fanciful and talkative Iona (Caitriona Ennis) is quite a contrast to her low-key non-binary friend in a tuxedo, Pingu (Elise Heaven). Idiosyncratic individualists, they pay the price for their non-conformity by enduring perpetual torment from their peers. Trapped in Crumlin, a dreary suburb of Dublin, these Irish teens face a particularly rowdy and contentious crowd. As sensitive creative souls, they clearly do not fit in.
High school hierarchies, cliques and the bullying of eccentrics are classic themes of countless American films about adolescence. A distinct focal point as a social ground zero in US culture, this period of youth is looked upon as both a defining moment in life, as well as one that is often ironically the antithesis of ensuing adulthood: that is, the geeks invariably become successful tycoons, and the cool kids stay in the suburbs and become fat. As such, it is divine justice – as it is the struggle that develops us while arrogance keeps us stuck.
Also a global, universal rite-of-passage however, adolescents grappling to find themselves, to evolve, to blossom – while narrow-minded forces of conformity attempt to block them – are examined in this work. Clearly the power is in the pain of endeavour and growth vs small-town pettiness, and this classic scenario represents timeless themes of battles between individuality and group pressure, being different or fitting in, innovation or fear of change, brilliance, ingenuity and breakthroughs or not rocking the boat.
Shortlisted for the Papatango Prize, longlisted for the Bruntwood Prize and Soho Theatre’s Verity Bargate Award, Cuckoo is very impressive as a debut play. Carroll’s brilliant, insightful writing is wonderfully cutting-edge, Hannan’s direction is faultless and the ensemble players perform admirably – Heaven and Ennis are especially superb. An unusually colourful and varied set illuminates these vivid characters and, with clever detailing, highlights contrasts between locations, imagination and reality, positivity and self-harm.
Funny, entertaining, touching and inspiring, this is a piece to which most of us can relate, and one that also resonates as a symbol of the human condition.
Photo: David Gill
Cuckoo is at Soho Theatre from 13th November until 8th December 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Cuckoo here: