There is no fourth wall in Mark Thomas's award-winning “Cuckooed” and there is no attempt to suspend disbelief. The standup, actor, journalist’s solo performance raises important questions about corporate deception, government collusion, and personal betrayal but is it theatre? It certainly is a solid university-caliber lecture that engages the audience and challenges the status quo. Perhaps what makes it more theatre than lecture is that there are no real question-answer segments. Mr. Thomas raises the questions to the audience, then provides the answers. Keys are tossed back and forth with an audience member and there are scheduled “pauses” for audience members who ostensibly are not paying attention and “nodding off.” But all of this is scripted and not spontaneous, so for the purpose of this review, let’s call “Cuckooed” theatre, a solo performance.
Longer in duration than its scheduled 60 minutes (by at least fifteen minutes), “Cuckooed” often does go on and on much like the creature of its title and one can understand an audience member drifting off here and there. But perhaps that is the point. The horrific arms dealer data shared by Mark Thomas is admittedly overwhelming and the tactics of those who provide arms to unscrupulous clients worldwide are enough to send anyone running for cover. But everything Mr. Thomas shares is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help the playwright (except a factoid involving the number 28). And as much as the audience might feign somnambulism or indifference, the truth is the truth. Arms companies like BAE and their pursuit of profit are issues addressed by Mr. Thomas and the attempts of these companies to intimidate and spy on activist organizations like the Campaign Against Arms Trade are further issues addressed in “Cuckooed.” Mr. Thomas spares no participants’ feelings (including his dear friend Martin) and takes no enemies.
Throughout “Cuckooed,” Mr. Thomas offers convincing arguments and shares his own involvement in exposing the arms dealers and their questionable tactics. He is energetic, fully committed, and engaging in every way. His solo performance is a powerful tour-de-force whether it is theatre or lecture and it is worth the visit. With meticulous direction by Emma Callander, “Cuckooed” is deliciously brimming with the tactics Mr. Thomas has used to fight for justice and to achieve corporate and political transparency. He shares these tactics with humor and deep devotion to his commitment as an activist.
“Cuckooed” is presented by All For One and Lakin McCarthy in association with Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. The design team includes Tim McQuillen-Wright (stage design); Kate Bonney (lighting design); Duncan McLean (audio visual design); and Helen Atkinson (sound design). The Production Stage Manager is Tine Selby. Production photos are by Richard Davenport.
“Cuckooed” runs for a limited engagement through Saturday, November 21. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM & 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $35.00 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is scheduled for 60 minutes however the performance reviewed lasted 75 minutes. Plan accordingly.