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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Tuesday, 29 March, 2011

Dale Wasserman’s adaptation of Ken Kesey’s renowned novel

One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest was first published in 1962, and became a best seller once more when released as a movie in 1975. On both occasions it was applauded for its accurate portrayal of insanity in its many forms, as well as being a great story. Happily the same can be said for this 2011 theatre production.

Most people reading this review will be aware of the basics of the plot – that of the self-proclaimed hell raiser who takes on those battles his vulnerable fellow patients cannot.

His nemesis is the dictatorial, begrudging Nurse Ratched who manipulates her inmates and ensures they will never overcome their weaknesses. Her goal is order, and no kind of chaos can be tolerated. Everyone’s sympathies are with McMurphy, but the inevitable outcome is his defeat by the institution Nurse Ratched represents. Even a character as strong as he unquestionably is, cannot successfully confront the status quo in which the only answer to oddness is to contain it.

Theatro Technis has a large performing space with three walls lined with chairs for a capacity of around 150 spectators. The action takes place in the centre and breaks the usual divide between actor and audience. The peripheral characters do not stop moving and shouting just because the main characters are in dialogue. This has the disadvantage of blocked views. However focusing on the private intrigues of the vegetative inmates is as intrinsic to the story as what the main characters are doing.

The scene is a madhouse, naturally, a theme created and embraced exceptionally well by the cast. And “cast” in this case includes the musicians, who were dressed as patients and who did not come out of character even when playing or during the interval. The music was atmospheric, spooky at times, thanks to the lamenting tones of the singer over the cello, double bass, violin and flute.

Daniel Addis was competent, if sometimes veering toward the over-emotional, as McMurphy. Kate Kenyon was convincing as the one-dimensional Nurse Ratched. Robert Rowe was a wonderfully repressed homosexual, cultured Dale Harding. Christopher Eastwood stuttered his way competently through the highs and lows of the suicidal mummy’s-boy, Billy Bibbit. Gul Y Davis as Cheswick and Marco Aponte as Martini mastered the strained facial expressions of excitable, maniacal and comically enthusiastic lunatics. DK Ugonna may have had the biggest shoes to fill, literally of course, as Chief Bromden. This performance was strong and his voice was powerful enough for him to act as narrator with all sorts of noisy activity going on around him as he did so.

The peripheral characters deserve as much praise as the main players. To have mastered their capacity to create seemingly endless fountains of drool the way they did is something that must be seen to be believed. It was actually quite a surprise to see them all lined up at the end of the performance looking normal, smiling and with full control of their limbs, if a little wet around the collar.

The themes of this story are still relevant. While involuntary lobotomy and electro-therapy form the particular evils in this story, the basic feelings of injustice, powerlessness and the power of the institutions are as relevant today as they were when Ken Kesey worked as a night guard in a mental institution in 1959. This is a powerful story, well adapted, which deserves to be told again. Hopefully Empatheyes Theatre Company will keep doing what they are doing.

Writer – Dale Wasserman (from the book by Ken Kesey); Directors -Tarzan and Imojane; Producers – Alex Rodin and Imogen Lewis; presenter – EmpathEyes Theatre; Crew: Kiki Lawrance, Marie Kearney, Maria Kelesidi, Laura Linck, Rajee Sukumaran.

Cast: DK Ugonna, Daniel Addis, Robert Rowe, Christopher Eastwood, Gul Y Davis, Marco Aponte, Adam Loxley, Matthew Milner, Sam Child, Ozan Gemikonakli, Thiruvarangan Thirunimalan, Kate Kenyon, Kiki Lawrance, Eugene Pooley, Nigel Bernard, Christopher Jenner Cole, Kristina Epenetos.

Music: Max Wilson, Laura Lee Tanner, Ruth Wilson, Luis dos Reis, Sophie McKechnie, Kostantinos Spanos.

Reviewed Friday 11 March 2011 / Theatro Technis, London UK

(c) Leanne O’Loughlin 2011

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