‘Society is what decides who’s sane and who isn’t, so you’ve got to measure up’.
Ken Kesey’s ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest’ explores dual themes of control and communication and is a brutal exploration of how society treats those members who act differently. Kesey wrote the book after working as an orderly in a Californian hospital for veterans, where he was aghast at the treatment of the patients. Communication methods in the story vary and are effective: Nurse Ratched (Di Smith) controls by her passive aggressive manipulation of the patients while the Chief (Wayne McDaniel) speaks to no one and keeps his own counsel, which has the effect of placing him in a somewhat enviable position as the staff think he is deaf and dumb, he uses this to his advantage.
Nurse Ratched rules the ward with absolute power (aided by the contents of the drug cabinet) so when Randle McMurphy (Anthony Gooley) turns up and openly begins agitating, she takes umbrage immediately and sees him as a threat to her control. Ratched is deferred to by patients and staff alike which makes McMurphy even more determined to crack her. McMurphy takes increasingly risky shots at Ratched from the (presumed) safety of the hospital bullpen, her own antipathy expresses itself in her blatant verbal emasculation of her male patients.
The action is slow to begin, with much of the energy resting solely and squarely on Gooley’s shoulders to propel the play forward, luckily he was more than up for the job. His McMurphy is exactly as you’d expect: boisterous and full of an obvious brand of bullshit, he livens up the proceedings dramatically.
Good performances all round, though I was a little disappointed in some of the casting. The native American Chief is played well by Wayne McDaniel, though the orderlies (who were all black in the original story) were all played by white actors. This gives the play a very different perspective, as we witness a white character essentially bullying the black Chief. Issues of race that were keenly observed in the original story become lost in translation here largely due to these casting choices.
It would be easy to dismiss this story and relegate it to the History Channel under the category of the dissident 60s, but I applaud Sport for Jove and director Kim Hardwick for tackling it. Issues faced in the play, like the marginalisation of the mentally ill, gay and ethnically diverse are depressingly still very much alive today, in spite of the fifty-odd year gap between the story first appearing and now.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is presented at the Seymour Centre by Sport for Jove and is on until 19 August, for more details and tickets see: https://www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/one-flew-over-the-cuckoos-nest/
Featuring: Matilda Brodie, Laurence Coy, Patrick Cullen, Anthony Gooley, Travis Jeffery, Felicity Jurd, Stephen Madsen, Wayne McDaniel, Joshua McElroy, Tony Poli, Nick Rowe, Di Smith, Wendy Strehlow, Bishanyia Vincent, and Johann Walraven.
Creative/Tech Team: Kim Hardwick (director), Isobel Hudson (set & costume design), Martin Kinnane (lighting design), Stephen Francis (sound design), Marnya Roth (photography).