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Review: Cuckoo, Royal Court Theatre - Sharp and silly laughs

Cuckoo-royal court theatre Jul 2023
Cuckoo, Royal Court Theatre July 2023. L-R Michelle Butterly, Jodie McNee, Sue Jenkins & Emma Harrison. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Home is where the heart is for the Merseyside family at the centre of Michael Wynne's play Cuckoo at the Royal Court.

Daughters Carmel (Michelle Butterly) and Sarah (Jodie McNee) gravitate towards their mother Doreen's (Sue Jenkins) house, but when granddaughter Megyn (Emma Harrison) locks herself in an upstairs room and won't come out, the peace of their chip shop dinners and scrolling on their phones is disturbed.

Patience is tested, concerns grow, and uncomfortable truths are revealed.

The play's title serves up its double meaning. It's a reference to the borderline crazy situation and perhaps a nod to the derogatory term for people with mental health problems.

Cuckoos also famously lay their eggs in other birds' nests to be brought up by the unsuspecting 'foster' parent, and Megyn has taken up residence in her grandmother's bedroom, where Doreen waits on her hand and foot. Megyn will only communicate via text.

Megyn's mother, Carmel, is withering in her remarks, which doesn't always help the Megyn situation but does deliver a sharp humour to contrast the more playfully funny lines given to Doreen and Sarah.

But underneath the humour, the real world and the problems, struggles and strife that come with it press in.

And it's a mix of issues that directly affect the family, such as zero contract hours, absent fathers and abusive husbands, and what is happening in the community around them. 

No wonder they spend so much time on their phones.

It's a funny play with dark edges. The characters have fickle attention spans, which means they can be concerned about news of a tragedy unfolding hundreds of miles away one minute and then laughing at a funny meme the next. 

And like most families, they are happy with each other and get along until they don't.

The second half doesn't carry quite the same steady bubble of laughter as the first, and there is a story thread which feels like it is left hanging. Maybe we need a Cuckoo Part 2?

But overall, it's an enjoyable watch, and I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.

Cuckoo, Royal Court

Written by Michael Wynne

Directed by Vicky Featherstone

Running time: 2 hours with an interval

Booking until 19 August; for more details and to buy tickets, visit the Royal Court Theatre website

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