Javaad Alipoor’s adaptation of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest looks familiar, and not just because the story is such a well-told one. Visually, the costumes, casting and sense of era are true to the iconic film, based on Ken Kesey's novel. This production for The Crucible is far more than just a stage re-enactment of the 1975 classic though.
Randle P McMurphy – as played by Joel Gillman – is unmistakably McMurphy-ish in his jeans, leather boots and beanie hat. He comes swaggering into the action at the beginning of the play, disrupting the muted beige uniforms and muted voices of the inhabitants on the psychiatric ward. His natural enemy is Nurse Ratched and the plot manoeuvres itself to position the two as good cop/bad cop for the ward’s long-suffering patients.
Cold and faux-maternal, Jenny Livsey’s Ratched rules with an unwavering sternness that chips away at the mental wellbeing of everyone she comes in contact with. The charismatic McMurphy, on the other hand, promises them freedom and excitement on which he struggles to deliver. Of course, we know this story already.
Alipoor takes the 1963 play, and with a few well-chosen adjustments – a minimal set and unnervingly clinical sound design – he retells the story in a way that has something more to say. Here, the key conflicts of individual versus institution, expression versus repression are writ large.
Performances are excellent across the board. Gillman’s Randle is full of contorted energy as he flirts around the boundary of court jester and chief mutineer, and Arthur Hughes’ Billy Bibbitt is a fumbling, stuttering, sexually repressed young man who places much faith in the system and suffers greatly for it.
Jeremy Proulx as Chief Bromden stands out, and not just for his imposing stature and omnipresent broom. The half-Native American ward patient acts as a poetic storyteller throughout, talking about how “they put controls in us”. That his character is believed to be deaf and dumb delivers a nice piece of dramatic irony. We the audience know what’s coming, but it’s satisfying to hear him find his public voice.
Jenny Livsey’s performance as the authoritarian Nurse Ratched, whose composure fractures throughout the duration of the play, was especially notable. During preview performances, her leather-bound medical notes actually contained a copy of the script, as she’d been appointed to the role less than 24 hours earlier following Lucy Black’s injury. Referring to it just a handful of times throughout the performance, she was utterly convincing.
This is a production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest that uses the source material in a thorough and uncompromising way. We’re unsettled by every ambiguous character and our sympathies are well and truly challenged. More than just exploration of a set of themes from a classic text, it’s a well-rounded, sharply paced and totally immersive look into a world where conformity rules completely and individuality is dangerous.
- Words by
- Lucy Holt