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One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

We all go a little mad sometimes


Ken Kesey’s era defining novel is now 50 years old. To mark the occasion, the Lost Theatre in Stockwell is housing a new production of Dale Wasserman’s play adaptation. The story of a group of inmates in a mental ward, their sadistic leader and the rebel who stirs up trouble when he decides to oppose her has made the later film adaptation a modern classic. In fact, the film has cast a bit of a shadow over its earlier play version, which doesn’t enjoy quite the same stellar track record. Happily, there is much to admire in this punchy revival, confidently and unflinchingly directed by Paul Taylor-Mills.

David Shields’ set is a grimly functional rendering of mental hospital recreation room, the subtle and pretty addition of origami birds clustered around the upper window a neat touch. Special mention to the beautiful projections, designed by Tom Munday, which punctuate the action and bridge the scene changes alongside soliloquies from the ward’s longest serving inmate.

In the main roles, Annabel Capper impresses as the fearsome Nurse Ratched. Initially, there is a little too much velvet glove to her performance, making the iron fist a little hard to discern but as events take a turn for the darker Capper is more than a match for the righteous fury required of her and her final lines are wonderfully chilling. Unfortunately, Sean Buchanan’s Randall McMurphy (following in ther footsteps of Jack Nicholson on screen) is less successful. Lacking the presence and charm required for such a complex role, he often comes off as irritating and obnoxious. Similarly miscast is Dwayne Washington as Chief Bromden – while his performance itself is fine, he cannot physically convince as the hulking Native American he is so often described as being.

Where this revival excels is in its talented ensemble cast. As well as the inmates, there are a few casually brutal orderlies, and even a prostitute or two. From Lee Colley’s stammering virgin to Bradley Rhys Williams as the pontificating leader of the patient’s council (an impressive stage debut) via Bobby Bulloch’s lobotomized shouter (with distractingly good arms), there is not a weak link among them. A strong and cohesive group, they demonstrate a true commitment (pun possibly intended) to their roles.

If you’ve somehow managed to escape the influence of this cultural phenomenon, then this production is a fine place to start. Heck, even if you’ve read the book and seen the film a dozen times, this latest revival still has enough going for it to make the Lost Theatre worth finding for an evening.

4/5

Words: Calvin Hunter

Photo: Daniel Joseph Serra

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is at the Lost Theatre, London until 31 March

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