Cuckoo - The Royal Court theatre. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Cuckoo Reviews – Royal Court Theatre

Reviews are coming in for Michael Wynne’s new comedy Cuckoo at the Royal Court theatre in London.

Directed by outgoing Royal Court artistic director Vicky Featherstone, the play stars Michelle Butterly as Carmel, Emma Harrison as Megyn, Sue Jenkins as Doreen and Jodie McNee as Sarah.

Olivier and BAFTA Award-winning playwright Michael Wynne has written a dark comedy about three generations of a matriarchal family as they try to live their lives in what can feel like difficult and crazy times.

The play’s creative team also includes designer Peter McKintosh, lighting designer Jai Morjaria and sound designer Nick Powell, along with Jonnie Riordan (Movement director); Jade Franks (Assistant director); Tom Turner (Associate lighting designer); Luke Roberts (Stage manager); Katie Stephen (Deputy stage manager); Lottie Denby (Assistant stage manager); and Noelle Adames (Artist Wellbeing Practitioner).

Cuckoo is playing at the Royal Court Theatre until 19 August 2023.

Read reviews from the Telegraph, TimeOut, Evening Standard, Stage and more, with further reviews to be added.

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Cuckoo reviews

i News

"The dark, relatable comedy the theatre has been missing"

"Four women from a single Birkenhead family navigate a widening generation gap, and prove beguiling company"

"What a pleasure it is to hear the Court echoing with warm audience laughter; there has been precious little theatrical mirth in Sloane Square in recent years."

"Cuckoo, by Michael Wynne, is far more humane and relatable than too many of this venue’s offerings have been under Featherstone; one can comfortably imagine the play appealing far more widely than the customary niche audience."

"It’s the perfect, bittersweet snapshot of our age and Wynne has much to say about the internet, with all its perils – and also possibilities."

"Butterly and McNee provide rich shading in their portraits of middle-aged sisters buffeted by life... In their very different ways, these four women are trying to define themselves in uncertain and troubling times – and it is a real pleasure to spend two hours in their company."

Fiona Mountford, i News
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The Observer

"A comedy of iPhone-fixated family dysfunction is hilariously relatable"

"Michael Wynne’s smart new comedy Cuckoo examines our modern focus and the ways in which we have gone astray. He considers how technology has brought us closer to one another and created distance. He impressively pulls off the feat of writing a laugh-aloud play without undermining the subject of a world in crisis."

"Vicky Featherstone’s production is hilarious, troubling and soberingly relatable. The frumpy house is nicely rendered by designer Peter McKintosh. It’s a play that is shapely in its craftsmanship. Put your mobile on silent and see it."

Kate Kellaway, The Observer
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The Telegraph

"A sinister look at our current social media malaise"

"Michael Wynne’s topical dark comedy at the Royal Court begins promisingly but ends up feeling like a wasted opportunity"

"Michael Wynne’s new play begins promisingly in that it begins flagrantly (and comically) anti-dramatically."

"The natter is lively and Liverpudlian, with a soupçon of Willy Russell. We’re on more conventional turf, but, still, this is the sort of fare seldom seen at the Royal Court; is artistic director Vicky Featherstone presiding over a badly needed mainstream hit?"

"I wish I could report that he proceeds as assuredly as he starts, but the evening settles into a more generic and ineffectual groove."

"When Emma Harrison’s Megyn finally descends, she’s barely recognisable and the sitcom-like mood gets supplanted by something more sinister. Yet Wynne’s domestic affair finally feels too slight to sound the depths of our current malaise. Diverting as a summer filler, it still smacks of an opportunity wasted."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
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The Guardian

"Springy dialogue lifts slow study of a modern family"

"Three generations of women in a Merseyside house banter, bicker and disappear into their smartphones in this nuanced play from Michael Wynne"

"Cuckoo is a delicately arranged play that basks in inaction. We watch the gentle flow of life from inside the front room of a multi-generational Merseyside family of women as they chat, laugh and row."

".... the play is driven by springy dialogue. Michael Wynne, who launched his career at the Royal Court with The Knocky in 1994, typically writes in a comic register and Cuckoo’s humour – sometimes ebullient, other times mordant – fires the drama. There are times, though, when the play, directed by Vicky Featherstone, wavers and is in danger of coming to a standstill."

"Wynne captures an everyday realism with unshowy and entertaining flair, while the performances are always engaging. These women seem like characters from a TV sitcom, rattling off funny one-liners, yet we believe in them"

"Megyn seems fearful of the world above all else though nothing is explained or answered. Is her gesture a stand against her mother, against life itself or an expression of severe depression? We never get to the bottom of it because Megyn barely speaks, and questions linger with a final scene that is thoughtfully open-ended but feels a little too anticlimactic."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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The Sunday Times

"The dialogue is skilful and the acting pretty good."

"Sue Jenkins steals the show as tolerant, resourceful, funny Doreen, who could be Nadine Dorries’ twin."

"The plot dwindles to nothing much, but Cuckoo makes for a cheerful if aimless evening. To visit the Royal Court and not be hectored about identity politics is certainly progress."

Quentin Letts, The Sunday Times
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"Cryptic, compelling kitchen sink drama from Michael Wynne"

"It’s a drily funny opening, and veteran playwright Michael Wynne’s new drama briefly looks like it might be a slightly basic satire about how mobile phones have messed up our lives. In fact ‘Cuckoo’ is creepier and stranger than that. In essence, it’s an old-school Royal Court kitchen sink drama that’s not been so much updated as warped and distorted for the age of technology."

"After the droll opening scene, Wynne’s play maintains a poker face throughout, and outgoing Court boss Featherstone seems to enjoy the challenge of directing ‘Cuckoo’ straight, the only arch flourish being an unexpected torrent of rain that erupts from Peter McKintosh’s naturalist set. Wynne raises a lot of serious social points over the course of the play’s two hours, which slip down easily thanks to superlative performances and relaxed, witty, authentic dialogue that never feels too on the nose."

"Wynne’s commitment to ambiguity is what makes this play: he never judges, and he’s deliberately vague about what is going on upstairs. It’s a naturalistic slice-of-life drama that remains cryptic. But in the end, the ambiguity also breaks it."

Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut
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The Evening Standard

"Amusing but aimless play fails to take flight"

"Well acted and fluently directed but ultimately it’s all a bit baffling"

"It’s well acted, and fluently directed – as part of her valedictory season as boss of the Royal Court – by Vicky Featherstone. She must have seen something profound in it. Me, I kept waiting for something to happen. But hardly anything does."

"You can’t really fault the all-Scouse cast. Jenkins is quietly wonderful as the warm, chuntering, unwittingly funny granny keeping her sex life hidden from her daughters. Michelle Butterly and Jodie McNee ably fulfil their respective requirements to be comically sardonic and earnest as Carmel and Sarah. Recent graduate Emma Harrison makes her professional debut as Megyn and she’s fine in a truly awful part..."

"... I’ve no idea why this play has been put on. Contemporary concerns are imperfectly bolted onto a set of jokey family relationships that wouldn’t look out of place in a 1980s ITV series. Like I say: baffling."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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The Stage

"Fatally flimsy"

"Play about family life and the dangers of digital addiction lacks substance, originality and a sense of direction"

"There’s subtlety, and then there’s aimlessness – and after making us wait for what feels like an eternity for the emergence of some sense of purpose, Michael Wynne’s new play turns out to be fatally flimsy. True, it gently entertains, initially at least. Vicky Featherstone’s production, co-presented by Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, is deftly performed by its all-female quartet. And Wynne has a twinkling way with a snarky one-liner. But the writing starts as sitcom and winds up as soap, without the snappy editing of either: those TV staples come in half-hour episodes. At four times that length, this drama is so bland and plot-lite – until its contrived 11th-hour revelations – that it seems interminable."

Sam Marlowe, The Stage
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The Financial Times

"Cuckoo brings the kitchen sink drama into the age of mobile phones"

"Michael Wynne’s new play, Cuckoo, mischievously evokes domestic portraitists past — such as Ibsen and Chekhov — and, most overtly, the kitchen sink dramas for which the Royal Court became famous."

"The dialogue is warm and crisply funny, delivered with rich authenticity by the excellent all-Liverpudlian cast. Yet a sense of unease hovers over the play and over Vicky Featherstone’s production."

"The mix of comedy and anxiety doesn’t quite work: there are periods when the play feels becalmed, some of Wynne’s points are hammered home and the ending seems an anticlimax. But he does nail down a very contemporary sense of uncertainty"

Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
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The Times

"A breezy Scouse sitcom with a dark heart"

"We’re used to seeing Royal Court offerings in which characters are a walking version of an overheated newspaper column. Michael Wynne’s new play, set in his beloved Birkenhead, gives us recognisably working-class figures who spend the opening minutes eating fish and chips in the living room. Not a great leap forward in dramaturgy, I admit, but it’s better than being subjected to yet another sophomoric political lecture."

"What a pity, then, that after a promising beginning this drama tails off in a desultory third act. The overall tone of Vicky Featherstone’s production is uncertain as well, flickering between breezy Scouse sitcom — some of which is, to be fair, quite funny — and hints of psychological trauma and dark family secrets. Still, if it’s all left frustratingly unresolved, you can enjoy Sue Jenkins’s central performance as Doreen"

Clive Davis, The Times
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👤 📅17 July 2023
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📷 Main photo: Cuckoo - The Royal Court theatre. Photo by Manuel Harlan

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