DramaFeaturedNorth WestReview

Cuckoo – Everyman Theatre, Liverpool

Reviewer: James Mac

Writer: Michael Wynne

Director: Vicky Featherstone

Following its run at London’s Royal Court, Michael Wynne’s Cuckoo opened at the Liverpool Everyman this week, much closer to the story’s Birkenhead setting. Directed by Vicky Featherstone, this brilliant new drama, a co-production between the aforementioned theatres, showcases the best home-grown talent, epitomising how the partnership of stellar acting and exquisite writing are the base ingredients for a top-class theatre production.

It is a comedic social commentary that holds a mirror up to the habits of humankind, putting one multigenerational family of four women under a microscope – each one cleverly representing a different age bracket.

Ultimately, it explores the uncertainty of today’s social climate and how technology is dictating our every move, affecting our mental health and wellbeing, as well as our close relationships. And despite its Scouse roots and unique voice, the context and relatability of this piece are completely universal.

The opening scene is genius and sets the premise perfectly, without anyone saying a word: Three family members, sat round a dinner table, glued to their phones, breaking their silence only in reaction to their messages and online content.

Wynne’s script, laced with acute observational comedy, is cleverly constructed with four dynamic, dimensional characters at the helm, all sharing similar habitual behaviours, and each individually reminding us of someone we know. It feels like we are lifting the lid of this Birkenhead home, and getting to peer inside – it’s such a carefully crafted plot, all under the guise of being a light-hearted kitchen-sink drama, with an omnipresent uncertainty permeating throughout. Wynne has an ability to present his sharply intelligent and accurate observations in a way that still feels down-to-earth and fundamentally entertaining. He seamlessly weaves new, unfolding drama throughout, keeping the audience engrossed from start to finish.

All of the women are written so realistically, with an identifiable and individual voice – each so contrasting to the other yet still undeniably related, helped by expert casting. How refreshing to see four native Scouse actors on stage, working so generously together, relishing in their close on-stage relationships and taking complete ownership of the story.

Grounded and routed in realism, Michelle Butterly excels as Carmel. Through her beautifully delivered razor-tongued one-liners, she encapsulates the recognisable starkly dry and quick wit that so many Scouse women have. Despite having probably the biggest turmoil of all the characters, she never spills over into overly heightened drama, masterfully blending matriarchal strength with vulnerability. Sue Jenkins’ Doreen is ingeniously nuanced and joyous. She is watchable throughout and maintains a light airiness making it all the more hard-hitting later, when she reveals her innermost feelings to the bereft Sarah.

Jodie McNee as Sarah is brilliant. She totally gets who this character is and completely relishes in her multi-faceted personality. She beautifully captures her fragility underneath the facade of all-knowing togetherness and has some truly hilarious comedy moments, all of which she plays completely unknowingly. Emma Harrison, in her professional stage debut, is captivating as Megyn, embodying her like an almost animalistic creature of habit. Despite having little stage time, she packs a powerful punch when her moments arise.

All four women are simply compelling and work together in perfect harmony. They harness the family friction and disfunction while conveying that tight-knit love and bond with one another.

Lighting design from Jai Morjaria creates beautiful on-stage imagery, particularly in the climaxing moments, emulating the bright lights of a smartphone. Peter Mackintosh’s living room set design is down to earth yet visually pleasing due to its detail and serves the narrative perfectly, making full use of the Everyman’s thrust.

One looks forward to seeing more of Michael Wynne’s work and hopes that the Everyman will continue to produce this calibre of brilliantly relevant and homegrown work.

You’ll go cuckoo if you miss this gem.

Runs until: 23rd September 2023

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