One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Lost Theatre)

Posted on March 29, 2012

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After 60 years Ken Kesey‘s novel ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest‘ is still a great read with starkly intense characters and a great sense of power & control and the revival of Dale Wasserman‘s stage adaptation at Lost Theatre has a lot going for it.

David Shield’s design is beautiful and clinical at the same time. Tom Mundy‘s projections give this fringe production that extra dash of art and class. This is a good looking production – one of the slickest on the fringe I’ve seen in a while.

But looking good and actually being good are two different things and playing ‘crazy’ is always a minefield for bad, lazy acting. How did this production fare?

Here we have an ensemble of supporting performers who for the most part succeed (with characters who are pretty two dimensional on the page), only one fails in my opinion – and fails rather miserably. My favourite performances came from Francis Adams whose Dr Spivey is not as absent or spineless as in the novel, but here has a nice level of humanity and realism, and Paul Cleveland‘s Cheswick.

The two leads, Nurse Ratched & McMurphy, the center of the power-struggle, left me lukewarm. There was a lack of subtext and tension. It failed to be playful, failed to build to a climax, robbing the finale of the emotional crisis it demands. McMurphy of the book (and the film) is wild, powerful, magnetic and rough, vs Ratched’s rigidity and rules. This is instinct vs society – a very primal fight. This battle of wills is complex and layered and needs to be elevated to near mythic levels – which it isn’t in this production. Here we have a “rebel” vs a “bitch” and that’s about it.

I’ve seen two other productions by director Paul Taylor-Mills at the Above The Stag theatre. One I enjoyed on the level of a guilty pleasure (‘Big Gay Italian Wedding‘), and one I hated for its complete lack of human emotion (‘Sleeping With Straight Men‘ – I couldn’t even bring myself to review it).

I’m happy to say ‘… Cuckoo’s Nest’ it a vast improvement on both of these shows but there still seemed to be a lack of subtext. The actors were playing the actions, not the motivations and some bewilderingly bad acting in a key role seems truly bizarre. Words seemed merely words without any meaning at times.

A few sound issues (the Lost Theatre seems to have issues with its acoustics), in that the moving speeches by Bromden are lost beneath the music.

Overall though, this is a fine fringe production with some serious talents on display. For the price of admission you won’t be disappointed and it’s great to see more theatre happening south of the river.

Verdict: Call me crazy, but this is worth going to Vauxhall for.

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Posted in: Fringe, Play