Writer: Ken Kesey
Director: Lou Stein
Reviewer: Sophia Moss
Sickly sweet southern-style music plays in the background as the audience sits in a full-quarter circle around a small, flat stage in North London. The music stops and a tall, well-built man dressed in pink scrubs with long, scruff facial hair walks in. He peers up into a blue spotlight, his eyes looking above the audience towards something we can’t see. This adaption of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is true to the book in most aspects and successfully chills the audience with its snapshot of how mental health used to be treated, but the performances don’t always live up to the characters.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest tells the story of a mental institution in 1959 America. The male patients take their medication, listlessly play cards and attend ‘group therapy sessions’ where they are insulted by the softly spoken, maddeningly calm yet vicious nurse Ratched. Their lives are full of empty routine until newcomer McMurphy, diagnosed as a ‘psychopath’ to avoid working in the fields, arrives and brings new life (and trouble) into the ward. Told through the eyes of Chief Bromden, who has pretended to be deaf and dumb ever since he was displaced from his ancestor’s land, this book/film is an unsettling tale of an abusive, stifling institution that seeks to break those it pretends to help.
The stage is a small, minimalist flat area decorated with a nurse’s station on the right, a window on the ceiling which is used as a stage entrance/exit, and a few stools and tables. It was so small that it was painful when the actors screamed only a few feet from the audience’s ears, but the stage served its purpose well and was convincing as a mental institution. The use of dreamy blue spotlights and echoing, dream music with a faint waterfall in the background which accompanied the chief’s monologues worked well. The sinister children singing “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest” was well timed and added to the audience’s discomfort over the use of electro-shock therapy.
Olivier LeClair (McMurphy) gave a lively, devil-may-care performance and had the audience laughing with his songs and flagrant disrespect for authority. Bradley Davis (Chief Bromden) was a little monotonous in his tone of voice, but gave a fair performance as the chief. Belinda McGuirk is a capable actress, but her portrayal of Nurse Ratched lacked the sinister, overly sweet, nastily calm barely disguised sadism that this role needs, although her final remarks – “that’s just fine, boys” – were suitably unsettling. The play was engaging, true to the original and had a good combination of humour and sinister overtones, but it has room for improvement.
Runs until 12 May 2018 | Image: Contributed