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Cuckoo cast



Royal Court

CUCKOO at the Royal Court


Cuckoo cast

“Despite strong visuals, the dark comedy doesn’t say anything ground-breaking or particularly witty and the script”


Cuckoo, the latest play from Michael Wynne and directed by Vicky Featherstone, has an interesting concept. We are introduced to three-generations of a family living in Birkenhead as they sit around the dinner table, engrossed in their phones, eating a fish and chip tea. Doreen (Sue Jenkins), the sweet and unwittingly funny grandmother, waits on her two grown-up daughters – Carmel (Michelle Butterly) and Sarah (Jodie McNee) – and Carmel’s near-silent daughter Megyn (Emma Harrison, making her debut). Megyn, after another argument with her irascible mother, storms upstairs, locks herself in her grandmother’s bedroom and thenceforth will only communicate via text.

Why? The reason is never fully obvious, and the plot is, unfortunately, rather aimless. As the story unfolds, we do, however, learn more about the family’s history and possible theories as to what may have driven Megyn to such a drastic action, as well as exploring the sometimes-dangerous escapism that our phones can offer us.

Jenkins and McNee are the standouts here and their characters have the most interesting personal arcs. Doreen has used her phone to better her life – meeting a kind man who empowers her to speak her mind unlike her controlling husband of 45 years; whilst Sarah – the first to request that phones are put away at the table – is ultimately plagued waiting for a certain notification to come through.

Unfortunately, the relationship between Carmel and her daughter is not wholly believable. This is no fault of the actors who do a fair job of working the stilted dialogue but rather the effect of Megyn’s isolation for so much of the play. There is no opportunity to see a growth in their dynamic as Megyn simply isn’t present and when she is, she is mute or looking around wildly.

Despite the all-female cast, men loom in their lives. Sarah talks passionately about her father whilst – by contrast – Carmel complains about her lousy ex-husband. There is a suggestion that a man has hurt Megyn hence her retreat from public life, but this is never fully explored. Many big topics are mentioned in passing such as abuse and environmentalism, but no one issue is settled on long enough to be justly handled.

Phones feature heavily throughout the play. The characters hold them firmly in their hands even in the tensest of confrontations. As Sarah reveals her darkest moments to her niece, she cannot help but clutch her phone and check it hurriedly when it buzzes. Reality vs fantasy is a strong theme too – the family gather around a phone to watch a video of a recent terror attack and complain when the content isn’t graphic enough whilst Megyn posts lies online about the loving relationship she has with her mother to her thousands of followers.

This theme is hammered home by Sarah’s rather on the nose comment that perhaps Megyn locking herself away is a perfectly reasonable reaction to everything that’s ‘going on’ in the world.

The realistic set (Peter McKintosh) is a marvel. A beautifully constructed living room (complete with conservatory) and kitchen unit. The bottom floor is circled by a shallow pool of water into which rain cascades early in the first half. A hallway leads from the kitchen to the left-hand-side of the stage where a staircase leads its ascenders off stage. The audience is left to wonder what tragic sight is behind the locked doors of Megyn’s sanctuary until the very final scene. The lighting (Jai Morjaria) is good and well reflects the time or weather outside the home or the mood within its walls.

Nick Powell’s discordant sounds and folk versions of The Cuckoo create a great sense of overwhelm and anxiety that reflects that caused by the constant stream of information available on our portable devices. Different sounds are utilised to represent various apps pinging off such as a ka-ching when Doreen sells an item online, a quirk that is given sizeable meaning later on.

Alas, Cuckoo has not lived up to its promise. Despite strong visuals, the dark comedy doesn’t say anything ground-breaking or particularly witty and the script leaves much to be desired.



Reviewed on 12th July 2023

by Flora Doble

Photography by Manuel Harlan



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Black Superhero | ★★★★ | March 2023
For Black Boys … | ★★★★★ | April 2022


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The Witchfinder's Sister

The Witchfinder’s Sister


Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

The Witchfinder's Sister

The Witchfinder’s Sister

Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

Reviewed – 9th October 2021



the best work on stage is by the very capable supporting cast


The Witchfinder’s Sister, adapted for the stage by Vickie Donoghue from the popular 2017 novel by Beth Underdown, seems like a good choice for Halloween season at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch. Set in 1645, in nearby Manningtree, Donoghue’s adaptation transports the audience into a deeply troubled time in England, where safe lives and livelihoods are hard to find, and a family’s fortunes can change in a moment. The Civil War is already underway, but more importantly, at least for the unfortunate citizens of Manningtree, so are witch hunts. 

Into this world of whispers and neighbours informing on neighbours, comes Alice, newly widowed and pregnant, hoping to find a safe place in her brother Matthew’s house. But the recent death of their mother, and the revelation of family secrets, has left Alice’s brother a changed man. Matthew is a man disfigured by a childhood accident; he is fueled by misogyny, and a desire to find witches that he can name and write in his witch finder’s book. As you might expect, it all goes downhill from there. Donoghue has done her best in adapting this material, though her play is exposition heavy, and moves slowly under the weight of such serious matters. But the problem for any playwright writing about witch hunts is how to acknowledge the giant in the room (in this case, Arthur Miller’s classic The Crucible) without being drawn into direct comparisons. Donoghue manages this with a sly reference to Salem at one point in The Witchfinder’s Sister, but in truth, there is a similarity in the inspiration for these works. Just as Miller was inspired to write his play as a reaction to the “witch hunts” against Communist sympathizers in 1950s America, contemporary Britons may find parallels with “fake news” paranoia, in the whispering neighbours of 1645 Manningtree. Witch hunts aren’t just for Halloween, anymore.

There is a lot to admire about this production at the Queen’s Theatre. It’s a great space for one thing, and the set, lighting and sound designers have the resources they need to show off their work. Libby Watson’s set, Matt Haskins’ lighting design, and Owen Crouch’s sound design set a powerful mood for The Witchfinder’s Sister, and it’s there in the auditorium the moment the audience enters. Once the play begins, however, much of the movement on stage is lost in semi-darkness. While this does sustain the mood, it also places a burden on the audience.

Alice, played by Lily Knight, carries most of this heavy play on her shoulders, but the best work on stage is by the very capable supporting cast, in particular, Anne Odeke, playing Rebecca; Grace, played by Miracle Chance; Bridget, played by Debra Baker, and Jamie-Rose Monk, as Mary. George Kemp, who has recently been making a career of playing brothers on stage, is rather underutilized in the role of Matthew, but The Witchfinder’s Sister is really a play about the women in this story. The men may hold the power in the 1645 world of Manningtree, but in this play, they hold it off stage.

Locals will find visiting the Queen’s Theatre to watch The Witchfinder’s Sister a rewarding experience of neighbourhood history. For those planning a visit from further afield, and without a car, be aware that the District Line may leave you stranded at any point between Barking and Upminster. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, and that applies just as much to the citizens of Essex in 1645, as it does to contemporary theatre goers in 2021.


Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Mark Sepple


The Witchfinder’s Sister

Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch until 30th October


Dominica’s other reviews this year:
Adventurous | ★★½ | Online | March 2021
Doctor Who Time Fracture | ★★★★ | Unit HQ | June 2021
In My Own Footsteps | ★★★★★ | Book Review | June 2021
L’Egisto | ★★★ | Cockpit Theatre | June 2021
Luck be a Lady | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | June 2021
Overflow | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | May 2021
Public Domain | ★★★★ | Online | January 2021
Rune | ★★★ | Round Chapel | August 2021
Stags | ★★★★ | Network Theatre | May 2021
Starting Here, Starting Now | ★★★★★ | Waterloo East Theatre | July 2021
The Game Of Love And Chance | ★★★★ | Arcola Theatre | July 2021
The Ladybird Heard | ★★★★ | Palace Theatre | July 2021
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice | ★★★ | Online | February 2021
Tarantula | ★★★★ | Online | April 2021
Wild Card | ★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | June 2021
Roots | ★★★★★ | Wilton’s Music Hall | October 2021


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