Witty Dark Comedy: ‘Cuckoo’ Review

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cuckoo
Image credit: Manuel Harlan

★★★★✰

“You can’t beat a chippy tea!” The seemingly universal statement meets a crowd of approving nods from the audience as Cuckoo sets out to be a laugh-a-minute in this witty, well-paced dark comedy. Three generations of women congregate in grandma’s family house, chattering and bickering away in Michael Wynne’s all too real and hilarious play at the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool.

Like a lot of things these days, it starts with technology. Specifically, phones. Specifically, that well-known silence peppered by app-specific notifications that keep us glued to our devices. A stunned silence follows sister and Aunty Sarah’s (Jodie McNee) request for a phone-amnesty and begrudgingly, conversation follows. There’s Doreen (Sue Jenkins), grandma and mother, newly addicted to the rush of online selling, Carmel (Michelle Butterly), the dry-humoured and cutting mother of Megyn (Emma Harrison), the teenager no-one seems to be able to understand, and Sarah, sister of Carmel and the open-book of a primary school teacher. Each performer bounces off each other in effortless familial fashion as they navigate the struggles of everyday life.

Set predominantly around a dining room table somewhere in Merseyside, Cuckoo invites you into the family home, pulls you up a seat and immerses you from the get-go. From climate change to zero-hour contracts, mental health and news bulletins, the play is reminiscent of bitter-sweet normality. Until Megyn decides to lock herself away in Doreen’s room, and slowly but surely the other three unravel. Whilst many things can be solved with orange squash and a Club biscuit, this tender exploration into today’s society is a sharp reminder of how easy it is to get lost in everything.

Immaculate stage design gives the production its essence of realism, portraying a gaudy living space (yellow wallpaper and a red carpet dates it rather well), garden and stairs. Musical interludes separate acts and allow the passage of time through haunting melodies, adding gravity to the ferocious humour of the script. The characters settle into their stereotypes masterfully and allow the narrative to unfold with ease throughout the performance. There is nuance and power to the acting, which strikes a chord through each individual tale.

Cuckoo is a snapshot of four Scousers wending their way through life. The humour in the script carries the performance where the plot ebbs and flows more gently. As endings go, Cuckoo’s feels a little sudden and unexplained, leaving a bit more to the imagination than might be necessary. There is a message there somewhere, just somehow a bit far out of reach. The play is very well delivered, with outstanding performances from each actor in turn. The sharp, comic script captures life perfectly without overdoing it, making Cuckoo relatable through its turmoil. Smart, quick, and emotive, Wynne’s Cuckoo feels apt in 2023’s Liverpool (and anywhere, really) and is well worth a watch.

Cuckoo will be performed at Liverpool’s Everyman Playhouse until 23 September.

Words by Hannah Goldswain.


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