Pros: Superb script and performances
Cons: A few plot points not entirely clear
“Thank fuck for Ryan Air!” isn’t something you hear that often in real life or in the theatre, what with all the cancelled flights and relentless penny pinching. But this uncommon praise is understandable, coming from the lips of young misfits looking to flee small town life in Ireland for the bright lights of London.
Iona (Caitriona Ennis) and Pingu (Elise Heaven) are best pals with a bond forged in the piercing fire of social alienation. Iona is bolshy and ungraceful, while Pingu is an elective mute who hasn’t spoken since deciding to no longer tolerate the mocking curiosity of others about their non-binary gender identification.
Ennis gives a busy and boisterous performance as Iona, a portrait of a character whose bravura only thinly disguises the pain of falling short of the acceptance she craves. Heaven is superb as Pingu, communicating a full spectrum of complex emotions without a single word of dialogue. The opening scene establishes Pingu as a willing follower – the affection between the friends is palpable, which makes what happens later all the more harrowing.
When Iona and Pingu decide to bounce, something seems to change in the attitude of their peers. Tracksuited twats Pockets and Trix (Colin Campbell and Peter Newington) suddenly take an interest in Iona, and throw her a leaving party at which new connections are formed, while older ones are tested to breaking point.
Cuckoo is truthful, heart-rending, and crackles with youthful energy. It tells the story – timeless but very modern – of love and friendship with consummate skill and assurance. Lisa Carroll’s script feels absolutely authentic, from the familiarity of wanting to belong, to the horrible inevitability of betrayal. The direction (Debbie Hannan), sound and lighting design (Dominic Brennan and Jessica Hung Han Yun respectively) brilliantly complement Carroll’s work. The production fits snugly into Soho Theatre’s upstairs studio in traverse configuration, and the whole thing whizzes by at a perfectly judged pace.
A thrilling element of uncertainty and danger pervades this excellent show. Who, if anyone, will end up boarding that Ryan Air flight? I strongly advise you to trip along and find out.