Review: Cuckoo

5 star rating
A play that has it all - terrific writing, compelling characters, exceptional acting, authoritative direction, and rich humour sitting alongside moving drama. Unmissable.
Cuckoo at Soho Theatre

Image: Metal Rabbit Productions

Theatre: Soho Theatre

Closes here: Saturday 8 December 2018

Lisa Carroll

Debbie Hannan


Colin Campbell - Pockets

Caitriona Ennis - Iona

Elise Heaven - Pingu

Sade Malone - Toller

Peter Newington - Trix


Everyone hates Iona.

Everyone except Pingu.

Fitting in is hard when one of you can't shut up and your silent best friend wears a tuxedo to school every day.

Sick of the ceaseless bullying and despair, Iona and Pingu decide to get the fuck out of Dublin.

Turns out that emigrating is a great way to get noticed by the cool kids.

Loving the attention, Iona is drunk on her new-found popularity until she discovers she's messed with the wrong crowd.

In a world where reputation must be defended tooth and nail, this can only end in disaster for all involved.


From Lucozade to Kylie Jenner lip kits, this is a fresh, modern look at what it means to be young in Ireland today.

Cuckoo examines what happens when Pingu's non-binary identity rubs up against the gender expectations of those around them.

Trying to navigate sexual politics and wanting more than the life that's handed to them, Carroll's teenagers are wild, funny, awful, and utterly human.

Cuckoo considers the bond of friendship through the shifting turbulence of adolescence as Iona and Pingu fight to figure out what they want.

Carroll dissects the true cost of belonging and reflects on how hard it is to break away from the place you grew up.


ActDrop reviews

Peter Brown

Performance date: Friday 16 November 2018
Review star rating image

Occasionally, a play crops up that has it all - terrific writing, captivating characters, exceptional acting, authoritative direction.

Cuckoo is one of those plays.

The world that writer Lisa Carroll describes is a suburb of Dublin called Crumlin where we meet a group of teenagers who all know each other well, having grown up together, yet as individuals are very different, even if they fall into two basic camps.

Iona is different because the 'cool' kids don't like her - in fact they dislike her intensely to the extent that she has been bullied unmercifully by one of them, her nemesis, Toller.

"You've been a massive bitch to me", Iona explosively tells Toller at one point, when she has found her courage.

But this play about the trials of struggling to fit-in in the emotionally stormy realm of teenage society, is about a lot more than just the mean-spirited and loathsome act of bullying.

For Iona (mesmerisingly played by Caitriona Ennis) her basic need is to be part of those she sees as the 'in-crowd'.

When we first meet her, she's describing her efforts to steal a fashionable pair of trainers in order to impress her peers and get in to their party.

Caitriona Ennis as Iona in Cuckoo at Soho Theatre

Caitriona Ennis (Iona) - photo courtesy of David Gill

Sporting almost embarrassingly ridiculous illuminating horns on her head, Iona is a non-stop talker in contrast to her best pal, Pingu, who doesn't utter a word, not even in private to her only chum.

Dressed in a tailcoat and what looks like a kilt, Pingu is also different.

Exhausted and drained from having to explain their gender identity to others, Pingu apparently decided to resolve the matter by giving up speaking altogether.

Though we never hear from Pingu, Elise Heaven's exemplary characterisation is nonetheless powerfully poignant and totally riveting.

Fed-up with being outcasts on the fringes of teenage society, Iona and Pingu decide to catch a Ryanair jet and make a new life for themselves in London where Iona's father lives.

Little do they realise that their decision is going to have a remarkable transformative effect on Iona's popularity, at least among the male members of their peer group - Peter Newington's Trix and, in particular, Colin Campbell's Pockets.

And that sets in motion a train of events that leads to conflict.

Cuckoo offers a uniquely rich mix of sub themes and motifs that amply illustrate and mirror the mash-up of issues and swirling emotions that feature in the angst-filled teenage years.

Lisa Carroll's brilliantly written script - like many outstanding plays - incorporates a delicately well-judged blend of abundant humour carefully contrasted with intense drama, that includes some painfully moving moments.

And Debbie Hannan's spot-on direction exhorts flawless and authentic characterisations from a tremendously able and talented cast.

The struggles of coping with adolescence and finding one's identity is hardly a novel subject for dramatic investigation.

But Cuckoo demonstrates perfectly that, with the combination of intelligently-crafted writing and a gifted creative team, new life can be injected into a fairly well-worn subject.

One of the most enthralling plays of the year, Cuckoo is unmissable.

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