Sheffield Crucible – until 23 June
Reviewed byLottie Davis-Browne
“One flew east, one flew west….one flew over the cuckoo’s nest”….
Set in Oregon, 1963, adapted from the 1962 Ken Kesey novel and 1975 movie adaptation, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” tells the story of recidivist criminal Randle P. McMurphy and his transfer to a psychiatric ward institution following serving a short sentence on a prison farm for statutory rape of a fifteen year old. Although McMurphy isn’t mentally ill, he is attempting to fake mental illness in the hopes to avoid hard labour, believing life on the ward will be more relaxed with less rules and regulations. He soon realises he is not in for an easy ride when he meets the strict uptight Nurse Ratched and sets out to defy the rules regardless of consequences.
The stage set comprises of the secure unit with the typical high windows – with just the top of tree being visible through it; the faint sound of birds singing in the distance. The story opens with the assumed “deaf mute” Chief Bromden (Jeremy Proulx) acting as a somewhat narrator (this is the case throughout the storyline, done in freeze frame to retain the belief that he is indeed a mute). In the background in the two storey offices – manned with CCTV screens (CCTV and panic buttons and tannoys are in clear patient view, the patients being continuously monitored by a team of Nurses and a Doctor) we see Ratched with a new patient – Randle McMurphy (Joel Gillman) who she soon introduces to the rest of the “acute” patients (the wards are named on severity of mental illness, the acutes being those who are most likely able to be “cured”.
From the moment Randle is introduced to the other patients, it becomes apparent he’s going to be defiant towards the strict patient rules; refusing the “admission shower” is just the start of his rebel against life in the institution which Gillman really brings the loveable side of the character out through humour making it hard not to love him, despite him being a danger to himself and other patients which results in tragedy.
The other patients are what really brings this production together, from stuttering virgin Billy Bibbit (Arthur Hughes), (Charlie) Cheswick (Shaun Mason) – who is prone to childish tantrums to the delusional Martini (Nathan Amzi), Randle soon has the others under his charm and it isn’t long before they are turning the tables on staff when it comes to rules and regulations, from bribing a security guard to get the office keys, gambling on sports and card games and organising a ward party complete with drugs, booze and prositutes. It isn’t long until Randle discovers the wards methods of “treating” the most difficult of patients – using electro shock treatment that things go from bad to worse.
Gillman delivers an exceptional performance as the small time criminal McMurphy; however it is some of the supporting cast members which really made this performance work. I was delighted to see not one but two cast members with physical disabilities – it is rare to see a disabled actor/actress playing such roles and as a disabled person myself it was a delight to see two cast members breaking down barriers which often come with disability and to give recognition to the often under-represented array of talented disabled actors.
Following a cast members injury, Jenny Livesy has stepped in at the last moment to take over the role of Nurse Ratched, although Livsey was still reading from a script for the majority of tonights performance, it was done in such a subtle way (as a Nurse in a Mental Asylum it was easy to make it look as if she was reading patient notes whilst talking) but towards the end it was less subtle but added a certain flair to the character portrayed – this hard-faced no nonsense Nurse, whilst making the audience feel empathy towards Livsey for doing such a smashing job at the last minute, thus saving the show from impending doom. The audience (myself included) most definitely let Livsey know at the bows just how grateful we were for this; she certainly gave an outstanding notable performance for someone who has had less than 48 hours rehearsal time to prepare for such an important role.
The music and lights add a slight horror/thriller movie feel to the story – at times I was genuinely clinging to the edge of my seat in fear and had to stop myself covering my eyes. I cant’ say I’ve seen the movie version nor have I read the novel, therefore I was unsure what to expect.
Although it covers some dark themes, the cast bring such humour to the array of eccentric characters making this a must see production.