Thursday, November 22, 2018

Review: 'Cuckoo' at the Soho Theatre, 21st November 2018

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 3 Stars

Escaping a hometown is no mean feat. Like a spaceship trying to escape a planet's gravitational pull you have to build momentum, gradually building up speed in order to break free of its orbit until - in one blissful moment - you're freed from all the petty dramas, bad memories and old beefs - able to leave the past behind and set a course for tomorrow.

Some never make it. You see them on infrequent visits home: sat in the same pubs, in the same barstools, drinking the same pints. Each year a little balder, a little fatter, gradually morphing into their parents. They will die in this place, and their children will repeat the cycle. This is the life trap, and Lisa Carroll's Cuckoo captures it well.

Set in the Dublin suburb of Crumlin, the play follows teenagers Iona (Caitriona Ennis) and Pingu (Elise Heaven), two square pegs in round holes trying their best to escape to a new life in London. Ostracised by their peers for their nonconformity, they're bullied, bored and have visions of a glitzy life in London, where their woes will melt away in a tide of celebrity encounters, over-sized Top Shops and fancy nightclubs.

But their escape won't that easy. Pockets (Colin Campbell) and Trix (Peter Newington) are two young men happy to be big fish in a small pond. They see Iona and Pingu's departure as an implicit criticism, this upsetting of the status quo exposing their small-scale ambitions. And so they plan to tear the pair apart and keep them here.

Cuckoo is intelligently staged, written and performed - with Caitriona Evans' Iona a genuinely impressive achievement in acting. Carroll's script seems to have a memorable line on every page and it's written with a punchy, aggressive energy that cuts through flowery bullshit.

And yet... for all it's qualities I simply didn't enjoy watching it. This is a long play - running close to two hours without an interval and I found the experience of watching it incredibly depressing. There is very little light at the end of this tunnel, and after so long of watching yelling, unhappy people drag each other through the mud I was glad for it to end. 

One thing I found particularly sad was how Carroll defines her characters' limited dreams. For one, her wildest ambition is to be a background dancer in someone else's music video, for another one of the prime attractions of London is that there's a big Top Shop. These are two examples of many, but Carroll never misses a chance to impress upon us how pathetic and insular her characters are and this relentless misery quickly ground me down.

Naturally, all this leads to a bleak, downer ending in which most of the characters vaguely comprehend that their futures are a barren, joyless wasteland and that they can never truly escape themselves. After that, I blearily stumbled out into the cold November night feeling thoroughly miserable.

This might be exactly what Carroll was after - and if so this is a success. There's a hell of a lot to admire about Cuckoo, but the actual experience of watching it is, quite frankly, an ordeal.

Cuckoo is at the Soho Theatre until 8 December. Tickets here.

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