Mixed Reviews for ‘Cuckoo’ Play: Superb Acting and Set Design, But Writing and Direction Disappoint – 07.09.23, Everyman Theatre, Liverpool


Michael Wynne’s “Cuckoo” promised to be an exciting play. Unfortunately, it left many of the audience feeling frustrated and let down towards the end. This was not due to the acting or the set design, but rather a narrative that seemed to lose impetus and direction. Some writers leave unanswered questions for a point of discussion at a later date; however, this ending lacked focus and was simply (in mine and many others’ opinions – you could hear the same conversation being discussed upon exiting the building) … weak. Wholly unforgivable when the audience had invested their time in the fictional characters, the situation they found themselves in, not to mention having sat through a two-hour (with a twenty-minute interval) performance.

This is a tale of a family, each with their own issues. The play got off to a strong start, highlighting the negative effect of technology – mobile phones in particular – on people of all ages, predominantly their social skills and the ability to effectively communicate face-to-face. The opening scene was the family sitting around the dinner table, each engrossed in reading from their own phone. Yes, there was clearly a message there; however, I don’t think the people who refuse to make conversation with their family members around the table about the trials and tribulations of their day would pick up on this or would have attended this play. While this is a play based in Birkenhead (Wirral), the careful casting of an all-female Liverpool cast ensured authentic accents and a clear rhythm and lilt to the delivery.

Superb acting from Michelle Butterly (Carmel) and Jodie McNee (Sarah) ensured that their characters were believable and relatable. Butterly, in particular, delivered her lines with such ease that you truly believed she ‘was’ her character. She was feisty yet vulnerable, sarcastic yet compassionate. Her skill and talent were a pleasure to watch as she helped the audience understand her feelings of frustration and predicament. This resonated and echoed with many parents who desperately and patiently try to understand and help their children cope in today’s society, despite their children not wanting to take accountability for their own actions. McNee demonstrated equal talent throughout the play, making the audience believe in her character through her enthusiastic portrayal of an idealistic primary teacher desperate to embrace the strategies of her new headteacher. Being in education myself, her enthusiasm resonated with my husband, who kept nudging me to let me know that some of what McNee’s character was saying is what I talk about at home. McNee received justifiably one of the loudest cheers and rounds of applause at the end of the play.

Doreen, played by Sue Jenkins, played this role convincingly. Her timing and one-liners were delivered in a manner that made the audience reflect on their own family situations, with many of them resonating with her. She adeptly told the tale of a widowed mother surviving and rebuilding her life after bereavement. Her marriage was not all she thought it was, and they were shocked to hear what she had endured for their sake. The audience was rooting for her to find her happy ending and reclaim some of her life back.

Emma Harrison (Megyn), while having very few lines in the play, played an integral role. Sadly, the writing and direction of this play let both her and the audience down. There was no conclusion or answers given for her behaviour; consequently, the character drifted without any clear justification for her behaviour. The director also allowed the bewilderment and confusion to go on far too long, which became tedious for the audience.

This is a difficult play to rate as the acting was superb, and the set design effective, yet the writing and direction let this play down.

Overall rating: 2 stars **

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