Writer: Lisa Carroll
Director: Debbie Hannan
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
The pressure to fit in never really leaves you, whether you are a woman in her 30s expected to have a few children or an OAP behaving disgracefully instead of knitting tea cosies. But that need to conform exerts its most intense power on teenagers and young adults who barely know who they are. Lisa Carroll’s new play Cuckoocelebrates the misfit while warning of the consequences of popularity.
Iona and her friend the non-speaking Pingu don’t fit in in Crumlin, so having been bullied one too many times they hatch a plan to fly to London to start a new life. Certain that a fabulous future lies ahead, Iona is stopped in her tracks by Pockets and Trix who suddenly want to throw her a farewell party little knowing their real intentions. Desperate to be part of the cool gang for just one day, Iona risks everything for one last hurrah.
Carroll’s play strongly evokes the difficulties of teenage life, balancing a need for self-expression with an equal desire to be accepted and loved. The characters, on the whole, feel credible and while those on the periphery are little more than sketches, Carroll conveys the endless expectation influenced by visibility on social media and obsession with reputation that leads to plenty of casual cruelty, delusion and betrayal.
While driven by its 48-hour timer and the plan to trick Iona – which is easily guessed – Cuckoo is really a play about one character and the complex flaws and failings that help to rapidly capsize her life. At the start, with a looming 1 hour and 50-minute runtime, there doesn’t seem to be enough material to sustain the show, particularly with a protagonist who could quickly become annoying, but it is credit to Carroll’s pacey writing and Caitriona Ennis’ vibrant performance that the audience is soon fully engaged in her story.
Ennis dominates every second of Cuckoo, easily delivering the high-energy humour, telling her rival Toller that “you dance like a giraffe that’s been shot in the kneecaps” while whirling from one cocky confrontation to another. But Ennis’ gift is to show us that Iona is all front, her deliberate isolation and apparent confidence merely hiding a frightened young woman who just wants to be accepted. Iona is a character with big highs and even deeper lows which Ennis delivers superbly, making it difficult to imagine anyone else playing the role so well.
There is some nuance in the leading male role as well, and Colin Campbell’s Pockets combines the swagger of a leader with the nervousness of a young man yet to entirely shrug off his boyish hobbies. Pockets isn’t a likeable character but there are moments when Campbell show you that he is also fulfilling an expected role which sits a little uneasily with his true self, and if Carroll were to develop the play further then a little more insight into the burden of this kind of modern masculinity would flesh-out the role.
Everyone else feels rather thin and while there is a sense in Cuckoo that they are all hiding behind a public mask, this idea isn’t fully developed, although Sade Malone adds a hint of regret and reconciliation to Toller. The unspeaking Pingu has points to make about people who identify as non-binary (and Carroll ensures her characters use the correct pronoun), but it means Elise Heaven gives a self-conscious performance, overstating the silent gestures that convey meaning so the focus remains with Iona.
Cuckoo never really surprises you and is heavily reliant on the charisma of the lead actor, but as a study in the effects of reputation and how friends can be cast aside for popularity it certainly conveys the easy brutality of teenage life.
Runs until 8 December 2018 | Image: