The Lost Theatre production of the cult classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is as comically engaging as it is clinically sinister. For those of you unfamiliar with Ken Kesey’s novel, or with Jack Nicholson’s iconic Hollywood performance, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a story about witty criminal, Randle P. McMurphy (Sean Buchanan), who has himself committed to an American mental institution to avoid jail or labour. He soon finds out that instead of being the naive hospital environment he’d hoped to dupe, he’s stuck in Head Nurse Ratched’s (Annabel Capper) manipulative, twisted world, where you’re mental until she declares you otherwise…
As soon as you enter the theatre, you’re handed your ticket, a programme and a prescription notice for “one free glass of wine: repeat as required”. This is just the beginning of the fantastic job the creative team has done of institutionalising the audience and making them feel part of the environment. The character roles of the patients were all clearly and carefully differentiated; it’s a difficult job to make each unique in such a short play with so many characters, but from Bradley Rhys Williams’s portrayal of the insecure intellectual Dale Harding through to the complete insanity and tension created and maintained by Bobby Bulloch as lobotomy victim Ruckley, the cast function well both as individuals and as a collective. The work put into creating the Chief (Dwayne Washington) is particularly notable as his character in this production has been adapted to be both narrator and patient, complicit with the audience and drawing them through the story. His asides to the audience are effective and affecting, with the harsh lights of the halogen bulbs extinguished and time standing still on the rest of the stage. Tom Munday’s projections on the nurses’ blind are a beautiful visual narration alongside the monologue of the characters and capture our imagination with rustic shadow puppetry, before we are rudely awakened from our dream-like state by the institution’s harsh, clinical strip lights.
The group scenes really were the heart of the production and I was particularly impressed, in the group therapy scene, to see that when the actors cheered and clapped, some audience members began to join in, only to stop themselves, remembering they weren’t part of the therapy! This shows how open and connected the production made the audience feel and is a real selling point for the director, Paul Taylor-Mills. The party scene was equally thrilling as the multitude of activity across the stage, with high levels of realism, means we feel that we are no longer watching drama, but a no-holds-barred madhouse (in every sense!).
Sean Buchanan’s McMurphy got a lot of laughs from the audience and he pulled off likeable ‘badass’ very well, particularly in dialogue with the severe Nurse Ratched (Annabel Capper) and both worked well to convey their struggle for control over the other patients.
I feel particularly lucky to have seen this production and would encourage anyone who’s a fan of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or fans of theatre who want a good night out to go see it.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is at the Lost Theatre until 31 March.