It has been nearly 55 years since Dale Wasserman adapted Ken Kesey’s classic novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest into a play version that ran on Broadway. Most people of a certain age will also be able to recall Jack Nicholson’s memorable turn as Randle P. McMurphy, alongside Louise Fletcher as the formidable Nurse Ratched in Miloš Forman’s 1975 Academy Award-winning film – it still has the power to shock.
Set in a mental institution in Oregon in the 1960s, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was inspired by Kesey’s time working the night shift at a Veterans’ Hospital. He didn’t believe that these patients were insane, rather that society had isolated them because they did not fit the conventional ideas of how people were supposed to act or behave. Treatment was controlled and often cruel, raising ethical implications, compared to today’s standards
An exploration of individualism and rebellion against conformity, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest creates an opportunity for a strong and ultimately chilling drama. Calling for a large cast, Director Carl J. Sorheim has presented a thoughtful, mostly-well-staged production, if a little rough around the edges.
Disappointingly, Sarah Tulloch’s design let’s this production down. While it is understood that some independent co-operatives don’t have the financial resources to present a fully realised set design – the expanse of The Lawler can be unforgiving if the space is not creatively used.
Overall, the set looked more like something a company would use in the rehearsal room. Only in Act Two did we see some potential when the white curtains were drawn to form the treatment rooms. Costuming was a mish-mash of eras that did nothing to delineate we were in 1960s America. This is a pity, providing more of a distraction, as Sorheim has managed to extract some good work on characterisations amongst the cast.
Looking very much the part, Michael Robins gives a strong performance as Randle P. McMurphy. Challenging for any actor, as they will often be compared to Jack Nicholson’s take on the role, Robins maintains plenty of chutzpah, from his fierce power struggle with a controlling force, right through to his ultimate sacrifice. Equally strong was Catherine Glavicic as Nurse Ratched, a disciplined and extremely focused agent of authority, while delivering a levelled undertone of controlled sadistic-ness.
Other standout performances include Eddie Mulliauseali’i who brought a level of understated humility as Chief Bromden, while Nicholas Denton as Billy Bibbit, and Troy Larkin as Dale Harding provided nicely rounded character work. Angela Scundi brings some much-needed relief in her sprightly turn as Candy Starr in Act Two.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
The Lawler – Southbank Theatre, 140 Southbank Boulevard, Southbank
Season continues to 11 June 2017
Information and Bookings: www.mtc.com.au
Image: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – photo by GW Photography
Review: Rohan Shearn