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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 Dog Walker

The Dog Walker


Jermyn Street Theatre

The Dog Walker

The Dog Walker

Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 14th February 2020



“despite flashes of real humanity, clever staging and spirited performances, we risk feeling underwhelmed by a narrative that feels easy to predict”


The Dog Walker brings us two characters at sea in the lonely but oppressive expanse of New York. We meet our pair during a heatwave, but by the end, the storm has broken – in more ways than one.

Victoria Yeates is Keri; bitter, drunk, raging. Herbert Doakes (Andrew Dennis) is the unsuspecting dog walker who comes to collect her Pekingese, Wolfgang. Wolfgang is, it transpires, an ex-Pekingese. So begins a torrid ride, as we see these lost souls navigate around and towards one another.

Writer Paul Minx is focusing on the brokenness of so many people and so much of city life, and the flows of the power dynamics between – and grief of – Keri and Herbert are cleverly handled, ebbing tidally through the production. Minx tells us that the character of Keri is based on someone he recalls from his time living in New York in the 90s, a woman who ‘lived in a sleeping bag under the stairs leading up to my local Chinese laundry… Every morning she’d get up, fold her sleeping bag, and begin her day’s screaming’. This perhaps explains some of the complexity of Keri’s character, and the challenges too; we see her behaving erratically but the play misses a chance to really scrutinise mental illness, grief and loneliness in lieu of a female character who lacks shades of grey until the closing scenes.

Keri shouts – a lot. She cusses and rages at Doakes, who, at first at least, accepts her treatment with an implacability born of his devout faith. Both characters, who are hard to like at the start albeit for very different reasons, melt into softness and vulnerability; without a doubt, the final act is the most affecting. This is helped by a twist or two, where it becomes clear that neither party has been telling the whole truth. The verve of these revelations animates the production and would benefit from being paced a little earlier, to avoid what can feel like a hollow shouting match in the first half.

The performances are strong, with a real sense of these actors claiming the characters in this new writing as their own. Dennis’ Jamaican accent is excellent when he hits his stride, evening out through the performance after risking being distractingly wobbly at first. And, as ever at the Jermyn, despite the compact space the set design (Isabella Van Braeckel) is evocative and the sound and lighting (Fergus O’Hare and Tom Turner) are exceptional. The effect of hearing people calling up to Keri from the street level ‘below’ is especially clever, as are the flickering lights when we shift into the almost supernatural closing scene.

The ending, though, feels a little too pat, with a fragile promise of redemption that comes unconvincingly hot on the heels of a trauma in the closing moments. Ultimately, The Dog Walker’s odd couple narrative is not a new one; there are plenty of precedents of city oddballs finding each other in theatre, tv and film. As such it’s hard for this world premiere to carve out much that’s new, and, despite flashes of real humanity, clever staging and spirited performances, we risk feeling underwhelmed by a narrative that feels easy to predict.


Reviewed by Abi Davies

Photography by Robert Workman


The Dog Walker

Jermyn Street Theatre until 7th March


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Miss Julie | ★★★ | April 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (A) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (B) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (C) | ★★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (D) | ★★ | June 2019
For Services Rendered | ★★★★★ | September 2019
The Ice Cream Boys | ★★★★ | October 2019
All’s Well That Ends Well | ★★★★ | November 2019
One Million Tiny Plays About Britain | ★★★ | December 2019
Beckett Triple Bill | ★★★★★ | January 2020


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