Sue Jenkins on dark comedy Cuckoo coming to the Liverpool Everyman
Sue Jenkins admits she was faced with something of a dilemma when her agent contacted her about a role in a new play by Birkenhead’s Michael Wynne.
There was the “big attraction” of Cuckoo being written by a playwright she not only greatly admired but had worked with before. And added to that was the chance to return to the stage at London’s pioneering Royal Court where she had appeared in Wynne’s The People Are Friendly two decades earlier.
But there was a slight problem.
“None of the dates worked for me,” she reveals. “My husband (actor David Fleeshman) and I were going on a really special holiday for our anniversary, and it clashed with the rehearsal period. And I knew it wasn’t one of those plays where you could say ‘oh, just do without me for the first four days’.
“So it was confusing what to do.”
Happily for audiences at the Royal Court and – in September – at the Liverpool Everyman, Cuckoo won the day, albeit helped by the understanding of her other half of 45 years who said ‘you know parts like this don’t come along very often’ and agreed to postpone their anniversary trip.
Cuckoo, which opens at the Hope Street theatre on September 6, is a dark comedy about three generations of women in one Merseyside family as they try to live their lives in what can fee like increasingly dark and crazy times.
Jenkins plays matriarch Doreen, while Michelle Butterly and Jodie McNee are her daughters Carmel and Sarah, and newcomer Emma Harrison plays teenage grand-daughter Megyn.
Butterly also played her daughter in The People Are Friendly in 2002, while Jenkins and McNee have appeared on radio together. And working so closely together in this new four-hander means she also quickly forged a close bond with Harrison.
Above: Sue Jenkins as Doreen in Cuckoo. Top: Jenkins with, from left, Michelle Butterly as Carmel, Jodie McNee as Sarah and Emma Harrison as Megyn. Photos by Manuel Harlan.
The action unfolds in Doreen’s Birkenhead home where the quartet sit down to share a family fish and chip supper – distracted by a constant barrage of pings from the phones that are glued to their hands.
Communication, the invasiveness of social media and a general feeling of uncertainty in our modern lives are among the themes explored.
The 65-year-old says: “With this particular play, but with a lot of Michael’s plays, you think you know what it’s going to be and it’s really so much more than that, he digs very deep. There are so many layers.
“And it’s a dark comedy, very dark.
“When we first meet them all we think, ‘oh this is it, it’s four characters in a house and there’s going to be a lot of gags and we’re going to laugh a lot’.
"And what’s great about Michael is that there’s always that unpredictable, sometimes slightly weird, side.”
On the matter of mobile phones and access to a whole world in our hands, she adds: “Apart from the obvious dangers on the web, I do think it’s stopped people talking. And all the newsflashes coming through – then for 20 seconds you go ‘oh! 500 dead!....anyway, are we having dessert?’ We become desensitised.”
Despite that, she says that like many others, she has become reliant on her mobile to run her work and life, adding: “I remember a time you’d go out with a 10p in case you needed to make a phone call!”
Above: The cast of Cuckoo tucking into a chippy tea. Photo by Manuel Harlan.
And indeed, her character is as welded to her phone as the younger members of her family are to theirs, albeit partly because the ‘merry’ widow has a little sideline in selling items online to earn some ‘pocket money’.
If Jenkins has recognised its themes in her own life, it seems the play has also resonated with audiences, with the actor revealing: “What is lovely is that the overall feedback is that we’re just like everybody’s family. Emma has a friend who is from China, and she went ‘that’s just my family’. So, it’s not like it’s strictly Birkenhead or Liverpool people, it’s a story for all.”
Still, while she’s loved the six-week run at the Royal Court, she is now looking forward to bringing the play - directed by Vicky Featherstone - to the Everyman.
Despite being born and brought up here, and spending a decade in Brookside as Jackie Corkhill, her appearances on stage in the city have been relatively few and far between; from a Rattigan play at the Playhouse in her early 20s to her most recent role, in the Vagina Monologues at the Empire in 2009.
Apart from enjoying the experience of performing for a Liverpool audience, it will also give Jenkins the opportunity to pop back on and off to the North Staffordshire home she shares with husband David...and her chickens.
One thing she admits she won’t miss about the production is having to tuck into a chippy tea every night.
She laughs: “I won’t be eating fish and chips for a long, long time.”
Cuckoo is at the Liverpool Everyman from September 6-23. Tickets HERE