Updated: Jun 3
Review by Matias Sifontes
Cocoon captivated audiences at a packed opening night at the Workshop Theatre on Saturday the 28th of May. The original play was written by the president of the Theatre Group, the one and only Dec Kelly. Lucy Yellow joins Kelly co-directing this amazing production.
Pictures by Abby Swain. Courtesy of LUU Theatre Group.
It can be incredibly hard to beat expectations and a play that is selected to perform at an international theatre festival in Lyon has a certain ease at creating them. Yet, Cocoon shrugs off any pressure and, across two acts and a 15 min intermission, this play delivers on the promise of its quality by providing two hours of complex plot filled with interesting group dynamics. Cocoon is the sort of play that it can be incredibly hard to write a review for because it is obviously brilliant and the only thing that I want to do is talk about what it means to me.
The story follows a group of students nearing the end of their time at Oakland High School. The students must complete an aptitude questionnaire, making them reflect on what they wish for future. However, an incident puts a stop to this activity and forces the characters to put their differences aside and work together. When they reunite for the 10-year anniversary of the incident the former students slowly discover how much they have changed since they left high school.
The writing is strong and thought provoking, but it would be dismissive not to say that it is not always a comfortable ride. The story forces its audience to engage with difficult questions: Who were you in high school? What did you have to sacrifice to fit in? Would you change anything if you could? This existential tour de force is so brilliantly prescient because these questions are aimed at a student audience that has recently experienced that very post-school reckoning. Cocoon instigates us once again to ask ourselves these exact questions when approaching the end of our days at university. For the daring, strap in, because Kelly’s writing will make you face your uni mortality. The question remains, did you learn your lesson in high school? “You are 25 and you still can’t be honest with yourself.” Epiphanies of such magnitude may not always come with a smile.
However, much like your days at school, Cocoon is an emotional joyride that navigates regrets and difficult inter-group dynamics by masterfully juxtaposing them with the random sort of conversations that are only produced when your routine involves sitting in close proximity to someone for years. The chat, just as it did in school, can often seem pointless yet incredibly funny in its own vacuum. Conversations feel natural and grounded yet revealing and pertinent to allow a subtle thread to carry the story forwards.
This is a masterclass in presence. Kelly and Yellow nurture an environment that feels breathing and living as the classroom is inhabited by murmurs, shenanigans and other escapades. Spectators are encouraged to roam and explore what our characters do even if the focus is not necessarily meant to be on them at a given moment. Like conductors, Kelly and Yellow allow the audience to become comfortable within this symphony of sound and motion if only to heighten the heart wrenching silence that can follow a certain comment once emotions boil over under the entrapments of high school. The directing in this play is truly breath-taking.
Nevertheless, the promises of Cocoon’s unravelling story could only be delivered by a standout cast full of talented performers. The interactions between every single character were unbelievable. I don’t know what kind of bonding exercises they ran to cement such perfect portrayal of classroom dynamics, perhaps 12 years of school together or something, maybe they are all just that talented. Furthermore, each and every one of the actors commanded the stage when they got their time to shine. Simply put, the cast is just fucking fantastic. Excuse my French but they will be heading to Lyon soon, so they better get used to it.
That being said, some actors have a way of demanding the attention of the crowd like no others. Alice Waller’s Lucie was astonishing at delivering some of the funniest moments across the play and also some of the most emotionally charged pieces of dialogue. Alongside Waller, Grace Elcock’s Orla and Lexi Prosser’s Florence formed a trio that might become this generations’ mean girls.
Meanwhile, Harry Taylor and Helen Jorgensen act out an intense dialogue scene that grabs the audience by the ears. Their arcs are intrinsically intertwined as the class clown and the smart and goal obsessive archetypes. The journey of Taylor’s Miles and Jorgensen’s Ava is portrayed with great ability in subtle but impactful ways that demonstrate the change their characters go through on a 10-year period.
Cocoon’s cast truly delivered on all fronts, Matty Edgar may be one of the most naturally funny actors out there but it’s very important to point out that his best moments come in his scenes with Arthur Bells. This duo provides heartfelt moments and pockets of intimacy in a crowded room incredibly effortlessly.
Finally, but surely not least, Eliza Christy demonstrates great ability in providing a scene with chaos and energy. Your dear writer is still trying to figure out how no one was hurt in THAT scene between Christy’s Cady and Elcock’s Orla.
May the 28th was full of winners and losers. Among the losers you would find Liverpool and all of the unwashed masses who chose to watch that footy game instead of attending the most historically significant event of the evening, the opening night of Cocoon.
I wish everyone could experience the emotional journey that Cocoon invites viewers to take but rumour has it there’s only 15 tickets left for its last showing on the 29th of May so buy one quick. It’s what we will all be talking about at the 10-year reunion of our class.
Tickets can be bought here