From the outset, ‘Cuckoo’ appears to be a comedic play with perfectly timed humour coming thick and fast. However, it doesn’t take long until we realise that there are themes interwoven to create a dark comedy that creates a thought-provoking and moving piece of theatre. Written by Michael Wynne and in partnership with Royal Court Theatre, ‘Cuckoo’ explores the anxieties of living in an uncertain world. The premise of the story is that we follow a family of four as they navigate changes within their own lives, and the tensions and dynamics it brings within the family. Alongside this, there is a heavy focus on the often-negative impact that technology and social media has.
Stage design comes from Ridiculous Solutions, who have brought a cosy family living room to life. The family are sitting around the table waiting for their tea to arrive - none other than British classic, fish and chips. The family sit scrolling aimlessly on their phones, laughing at videos they find funny and texting them to each other, never once looking up from their screens to communicate. The audience laughs along at this, but it is an alarming reminder of how technology has completely destroyed the ability to actually have a real conversation.
The family makes a pact to put their phones away in a desperate attempt to connect with each other. Whilst conversation initially appears to be stilted and awkward, it doesn’t take long for conflicting opinions to create an explosive family argument. This leads to seventeen-year-old Megyn locking herself in her grandmother’s bedroom and refusing to go back home with her mum, Carmel. Megyn traps herself in the bedroom for a few weeks, texting her grandmother her demands in an attempt to avoid the outside world.
There is utmost collaboration between the cast members to perfectly encapsulate the strained family dynamic, as they struggle to coexist in a world with widely differing opinions and viewpoints. Sue Jenkins (Doreen - the grandmother) initially steals the show with her perfectly timed one-liners, bringing a light hearted viewpoint when arguments get a little heated. However, as the play develops, it is clear that Jenkins’ character is more than a little one dimensional as she gives an incredibly empowering and impactful speech.
Emma Harrison (Megyn) and Michelle Butterly (Carmel, Megyn’s mother) are so effective in portraying the strained mother-daughter relationship, unable to relate to each other and struggling to make ends meet. Jodie McNee (Sarah) is hilarious in her role, being easily influenced and impressionable with her viewpoints of the current issues in the world. This was the character that I related most to and being witness to the complete change within her character’s personality was heartbreaking.
The story is completely ominous throughout and there are hints to different possibilities of what led to Megyn locking herself in the bedroom. This is really effective as it encourages audience members to predict and make their own links, whilst exploring their own views of the issues discussed. However, there are so many themes being explored at once that it can feel a little too heavy.
This is a story where all audience members will find themselves relating to at least one aspect or theme, so it is a hugely accessible piece of theatre. Cleverly directed by Vicky Featherstone, this production is relevant and relatable. With the story based on the excessive use of technology, there are regular references to selling items online to make extra cash, struggling to adapt to a living crisis and the chaos that comes with trying to find true love from a stranger on a dating app.
Michael Wynne has created a theatrical masterpiece that encourages thought-provoking and dark themes to be explored, whilst encouraging light-hearted humour to bring audiences back from the darkness. ‘Cuckoo’ runs at the Liverpool Everyman Theatre until 23rd September. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Manuel Harlan