The year after Ken Kesey’s experimental novel about a group of men in a psychiatric ward was published, Dale Wasserman adapted it for the stage; and a decade or so later the novel was made into a cult film starring Jack Nicholson.
A new production of One Flw Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, directed by Javaad Alipoor, uses the script of the original stage adaptation.
The reader of the novel views the events through the eyes of the narrator, Chief Bromden, a half-Indian who has been subjected to electric shock treatments
and pretends to be deaf and dumb. His narrative has a disturbing, hallucinatory, mythic quality.
On stage it’s replaced by a series of soliloquies – his perspective summed up in the statement that ‘it’s the truth, even if it didn’t happen’.
Randle P. McMurphy, a newcomer to the ward, clashes with Nurse Ratched, who is manipulative and authoritarian. McMurphy is determined to resist the
forces of social conformity. The programme alerts the audience to the theme of masculinity and the harm it does to both men and women – a present-day perspective which feeds into the production. It’s an interesting interpretation, one which complicates the novel’s preoccupation with identity, both personal and communal, and its revolutionary message of resistance to conformity.
Jeremy Proulx, himself of Indian descent, plays the depressed, dispossessed Bromden with tenderness and dignity. Joel Gillman gives a compelling performance as McMurphy, hyperactive, insightful, crude, witty, egotistical, yet with a core of humanity he shares with the other patients.
These are fleshed out and given their own individual character by Jack Tarlton, Shaun Mason, Arthur Hughes, Tom Hodgkins, Nathan Amzi and Andrew Dennis. All are memorable. Nurse Ratched is a tricky part: smooth and concerned on the outside, controlling, repressed and vengeful on the inside. Jenny Livsey joined the cast at the last moment, valiantly stepping in for an injured Lucy Black; she brings a steely presence to her role.
The audience responded with great warmth and enthusiasm to this thought-provoking production.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is on at Sheffield’s Crucible until June 23.