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Cuckoo
Published on Sunday, 15 May 2011
4

4 stars

Open House (venue website)
Theatre
7, 9-14, 16-21 May, 8:00pm-10:00pm
Reviewed by Catherine Meek

 Suitable for age 18+ only.
 Warning: Contains strong language.
 World Premiere.

The sorry lives depicted in this play are not the stuff of dreams. But then, nor are they most people’s everyday reality. Highlighting a social phenomenon which has arisen behind the scenes, Ben Keyworth’s brilliantly-written play exposes the plight of victims of drug barons who deal from their council flats, a phenomenon referred to as “cuckooing”.

In the midst of the Festival Fringe – experimental by its very nature – it’s not immediately obvious how Two Bins will meet their own objective of “appealing to those outside the regular theatre-going audience”. The performance space is traditionally laid-out, albeit in this case as a very well-conceived grungy council flat which appears to have been decorated from a skip.

The opening scene finds a puny Colin, in grubby track-suit and market-stall-bought trainers, cowering from the taunts of bullies coming up to him from the street.  He rings Wendy on a Mickey Mouse phone; he got her number from a porno magazine. We can only imagine the conversation, but he naively seems to believe what she is telling him, and quickly asks her to be his girlfriend. In those first few minutes we get the measure of an immature 28-year old Colin: a toilet cleaner for Brighton & Hove Council, council flat tenant, saving his pennies to go to Disney Florida one day.

Enter Kevin, by his dress and demeanour equally unfortunate, but far more savvy. In their ensuing banter Kevin reveals resentment at Colin – Kevin’s not eligible for housing, and still lives with his mum.  Touting himself as Colin’s friend and protector, he helps himself to a door key and manipulates Colin to hand over his bank card and PIN number against his will.

Colin and Kevin’s conversation is a disturbingly familiar example of a power struggle, showing how individuals seek to assert themselves often using manipulation, threat and emotional blackmail. The power game between them is brilliantly and very perceptively written, and it’s what makes this play stand out well before the interval… even though the point of the play as billed has still not actually surfaced.

In part two, the plot quickly takes a turn for the worse when Colin’s sister Marie turns up, and demonstrates her own insidious methods of controlling him. As we’d come to expect, she’s being threatened as well – by the hideous, mean and burly Gary.  Gary’s unselfconscious and abusive menacing of Colin, Kevin and Marie – delivered at top volume – would not have been easy for anyone to sit through, regular theatre-goer or not.  And there lies the evidence that Two Bins have met their own brief.  Recommended.

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FROM OUR ARCHIVES

These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2011.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.