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One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

Glen Falkenstein

Staging Ken Kesey’s iconic novel One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest is no small feat. Thankfully Sport For Jove are reliably up to the challenge.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

Image One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. Photograph via Sport for Jove Theatre Co.

One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest is set in the midst of a mental hospital in 1960s America which itself (alongside the play’s central characters) is a pointed metaphor for dissent prevalent throughout the US at the time. The confines of the theatre – perhaps better than any other medium – goes a long way in conveying the constricting, often overwhelming impact of Nurse Ratched’s ward. 

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The set is displayed in pristine flooring and plastics (faintly modern yet strangely unevocative of the story’s time and place) a reflective vista encompasses the play’s backdrop to offer the faintest, furthest possible semblance of life existing outside the ward, which is ever so far from reach. The set is a little too oblique to create a real sense of place or perspective of the characters’ movements other than what is evident and right before an audience’s eyes. With the affect coming across as often a distraction rather than an asset.

On to the floorboards enters Randle P McMurphy (Anthony Gooley) determined to upset the natural order. Gooley’s performance is at once endearing, duly anarchic and not indistinct in tone from McMurphy’s most well-known portrayal – save the depiction of his most frenzied encounter with the ward’s caretaker that is over all too quickly and bears none of the fury captured four decades ago by Director Milos Forman. Largely consistent in manner with McMurphy’s onscreen incarnation, Gooley’s stage presence is abundantly evident throughout, even notably for the short bursts characterized by his absence, where Wayne McDaniel (Chief Bromden) otherwise gets the chance to shine.

The perspective of the Chief a mainstay of the novel yet conspicuously bereft from the film adaptation, McDaniel, together with Travis Jeffery (Billy Bibbit) offer two of the more emotive performances, both ably navigating the play’s most emotional cruxes.

No match however for when the ensemble bare their vocals and rowdiest manner – the group uniformly upending the status quo or engaging in a mock ceremony works wonders in the finite space of the theatre – their sense of shared spirit and revelry  are palpably intoxicating.

Wary of their overseer, Ratched (Di Smith) is the one element of this production that has strayed from the original character evidenced in the prevailing source material.

Her quiet, resolutely understated yet altogether menacing persona was traded for a blunt, moreover overtly antagonistic figure who maintains power through direct means rather than the impression of long-engendered senses of reciprocity with her.

This effectively offered something distinct from the film itself (inextricable from elements of popular culture and modern conceptions of the text and play) the commendable ensemble who elevate and engender enduring pathos in so much of their output are but one reason to catch One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

3 1/2 stars out of 5

One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest

Sport for Jove Theatre Co and Seymour Centre present
3-19 AUGUST 2017
Director: Kim Hardwick
Set and Costume Design: Isabel Hudson
Lighting Design: Martin Kinnane
Sound Design: Stephen Francis
Photo Credit: Marnya Rothe
Featuring Anthony Gooley as McMurph
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What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Glen produces film, theatre and television reviews and commentary, covering festivals, interviews and events. Glen lives in Sydney and enjoys making short films. Read more at falkenscreen.com

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