It’s who cares about what that speaks volumes about generational divides. Teenager Megyn (a fittingly glum Emma Harrison, making her professional debut) is worried about the climate emergency, while her mum Carmel (a gruff and show-stealing Michelle Butterly) is more concerned about the gradual death of the high street that’s led to her shop-floor job becoming a zero-hours contract. Sarah (an uptight but fragile Jodie McNee) is being swept into left-wing politics at the school where she teaches, but she’s not ready to give up little luxuries like her car. Meanwhile Doreen, mum to Carmel and Sarah, is addicted to selling second-hand goods online and, recently widowed, is enjoying her own money after 45 years with a husband who controlled her finances.
Michelle Butterly, Jodie McNee, Sue Jenkins, Emma Harrison in Cuckoo. Photo: Manuel Harlan
Each woman is isolated in her own digital universe; only relatable memes and shock newsflashes about terrible world events unite them on the same virtual planet. Through the constant presence of their phones, Wynne makes the wry point that we’re forever on high alert for a notification to make our lives more interesting.
When uncomfortable topics arise around the dinner table over a teatime treat of fish and chips, Megyn barricades herself in her grandma’s bedroom, where she stays for the majority of the play. As the women work around their new unconventional set-up, with Doreen sleeping on the sofa and playing servant to her granddaughter, the previously masked warmth between them glows.
Under the direction of Vicky Featherstone, this Cuckoo sings. It’s the little details that flesh out the picture: as we’re told Sarah is on her way, the appearance of vinegar, salt and pepper on the table tells us fish and chips are coming with her. And as Carmel returns to Doreen’s house following a scene change, her instant glance up the stairs informs us Megyn is still holed up in her grandma's bedroom.
Michelle Butterly, Sue Jenkins, Jodie McNee, Emma Harrison in Cuckoo. Photo: Manuel Harlan
It plays out in designer Peter McKintoch’s vision of Doreen’s front room: a dated space with floral wallpaper and a kitchen visible through a serving hatch. It’s wholly naturalistic: when they sit down for a chippy dinner, they eat chips washed down by cans of fizzy pop. When tea, biscuits and crisps are called for, they sip and eat those too. How the four cast members will feel about the nightly junk food towards the end of the six-week run, only time will tell. But you’d imagine they’ll avoid the chip shop for some time. Still, it makes the whole thing more vivid.
Only the rain on stage, so overused its downpours have become yawn-worthy, sits at odds with the rest of the design. And with only one shower here, could this budget not have been better spent elsewhere?
Cuckoos are famous for settling in other birds’ nests, and it’s the sense of safety the women associate with Doreen’s bed that gives the play its title. Through the personal worries of just one family, Wynne’s new play delivers a rundown of the chief concerns facing contemporary Britain. With so much uncertainty in front of us, who can blame Megyn for burying her head?
|What||Cuckoo, Royal Court Theatre review|
|Where||Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London, SW1W 8AS | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Sloane Square (underground)|
06 Jul 23 – 19 Aug 23, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|