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Cuckoo by Lisa Carroll at Soho Theatre | Review

Cuckoo, Soho Theatre (Courtesy of David Gill) - Elise Heaven and Caitriona Ennis
Cuckoo, Soho Theatre (Courtesy of David Gill) – Elise Heaven and Caitriona Ennis.

Pingu (Elise Heaven) doesn’t converse in spoken English. Of course they don’t. Why else would they be called Pingu? Also, let’s get this out of the way: ‘they’ is the correct form here – Pingu identifies as non-binary, neither identifying as male nor female. Even when the question is asked as to what gender they are, their friend Iona (Caitriona Ennis) almost snaps back, “Pingu is Pingu”. So there we have it: Iona is she/her, Pingu is they/them.

Cuckoo can’t help but refer to a certain UK referendum (yep, the 2016 one), both in Pingu’s proposal that they and Iona leave (leave, geddit?) their hometown of Crumlin, a suburb of Dublin, and in a later manifesto that best friends Trix (Peter Newington) and Pockets (Colin Campbell) – both he/him, for the record – come up with, called ‘Crexit’, which is as self-explanatory as it sounds. But Iona needs a rethink on the move to London, and this isn’t so much about the inexperience of youth as it is about deciding something too rashly.

Then there’s Toller (Sade Malone), who for reasons somewhat explored but not fully explained, fell out at some point with Iona – or perhaps it was a gradual distancing – until, schoolgirls that they are, tit for tat tactics come into play. Most of the characters whip their mobile phones out with almost alarming regularity, even when talking to one another face-to-face. This is, it would seem, how it is for teenagers these days.

The play also demonstrates the power of mobile telephony and social media to spread gossip far and wide at the touch of a few buttons. At very nearly two hours long without an interval (par for the course for cinema audiences), the intensity of the show continues to build seemingly relentlessly.

Iona’s dry wit comes through, as does the predominantly schoolboy humour of Trix, and to a lesser extent, Pockets. Toller gets too emotional too easily, leaving Pingu as the most stable of the lot, and without saying a single word, manages to portray a whole range of emotions from ecstatic to devastated – more of the latter than the former, unfortunately for them.

The production flows well, with just enough time between scenes to catch one’s breath. As ever with closely knit friendships, much of the hurt and confrontation could have been avoided if openness and honesty were exercised in full in the first place. That said, while Iona’s impending departure may be a cause for celebration for some, perhaps because of what they perceive to be an abrasive personality, they do at least try to be civil, even warm, about it to her face. But true feelings come out eventually, especially on Iona’s part – it’s true, at least in this case, that alcohol frees the tongue to say things that will later be regretted.

It does not follow that Pingu can simply forgive based on a line of argument that says, in essence, ‘the alcohol made me say it’. For them, ostracised at worst and misunderstood at best by the other teenagers in their community, it’s an open and shut case – walk away with no deal, so to speak. The script (Lisa Carroll) is convincing, giving a strong sense that these are characters that are very much still in their youth. Sufficiently engaging to maintain interest from beginning to end, this is a passionate portrayal of the challenges faced by those growing up in this day and age. A worthy and fervent production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Everyone hates Iona. Everyone except Pingu. Sick of ceaseless bullying and despair, Iona and Pingu decide to get the fuck out of claustrophobic Crumlin, a small Dublin suburb. Who would have thought emigrating was such a great way to get noticed by the cool kids? Loving the attention, Iona is drunk on her new-found popularity until she discovers she’s messed with the wrong crowd. When reputation must be defended tooth and nail, this can only end in disaster.

Carroll’s teenagers are wild, funny, awful, and utterly human as they fight for more than the life that’s been handed to them. This is a fresh, modern look at what it means to be young in Ireland today as the production considers the bond of friendship through the shifting turbulence of adolescence. Cuckoo examines what happens when Pingu’s non-binary identity rubs up against the gender expectations of those around them.

Running time 1 hour 40 minutes
Twitter #CUCKOOPLAY, @MetalRabbitProd, @Debbiehannan, @sohotheatre
Notes Ages 16+

Writer Lisa Carroll
Director Debbie Hannan
Producer Metal Rabbit Productions
Designer Basia Binkowska
Iona Catriona Ennis
Pingu Elise Heaven
Pockets Colin Campbell
Toller Sade Malone
Trix Peter Newington

Tuesday 13th November – Saturday 8th December 2018, 7.15pm
Thursday and Saturday matinees, 2.30pm
Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London W1D 3NE


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