24 January 2014

Cuckoo at the Unicorn Theatre

I discovered the Unicorn Theatre on a visit to the Southwark Playhouse that used to be more-or-less across the road from it until it headed south last year from London Bridge to the Elephant and Castle.

I am always willing to give new theatres a try and there was something about the edgy nature of the play Cuckoo that attracted me.

I ate at The Brigade next door which was a good start to the evening. I had been there before and if I every find myself near London Bridge in the evening then I'll go again.

I had no idea what the regime was like for the Unicorn so I went in early, around half an hour before the start of the performance, and was delighted to find a cosy cafe where I could sit and have a latte prior to the show.

Wanting a good seat I headed for the milling zone with about ten minutes to go only to have a group of young people go to the front. The queue was very informal and they seemed good natured enough so I do not think that there was any malice in this, it is just that they were not as experienced at queueing as some of us older ones.

In the end that did not matter as they headed straight for the front row and while I was initially tempted to join them I took a second row seat instead as the stage was raised up high and the floor of it was at about eye-level for the front row.

The stage was set as a general purpose room which with a little movement of the central unit became a kitchen, a bedroom and even the seaside.

The play told the story of a quiet school girl, her aid-working mother and the bright wild-child who first became the quiet girl's friend and then her mother's project; she's the cuckoo.

To simplify, the quiet girl got a little wilder, e.g. she smoked and drank, the wild girl started to take education more seriously and the mother was caught between the two.

A crisis in the cuckoo's life forced her to move in with her adopted family and a second crisis forced everybody, especially the mother, to think carefully about the situation and where they needed to go next.

It was a funny, tender and sad story that rode a gentle roller-coaster of emotions. It was not a farce and not a tragedy either, it was just real life.

The performance featured, not surprisingly, two young actresses as the two schoolgirls and they were both good. Obviously they both had a lot of experience to gain but this was a good start. The mother I had seen before, at The Orange Tree in Unrivalled Landscape, and she did a fine job of being the calm in the eye of the storm.

The story was far more than the usual teenage angst and the production and action were significantly above average too, and that made for a highly entertaining and satisfying evening.

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