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Review – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: powerfully moving piece

Above: The inmates. Right:Ready to party. Below right: McMurphy and Nurse Ratched

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

By Dale Wasserman

Adapted from the novel by Ken Kesey

Directed by Alex Lanham and John Boyce

Brisbane Arts Theatre

Petrie terrace


Season: June 22-July 20. Duration: two hours 30 minutes including interval. Bookings: or (07) 3369 2344

The book was written in 1962, the play had its first run the same year and Jack Nicholson starred in the 1975 movie. It may be more than 50 years old now but One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is still a story that resonates today.

This Arts Theatre production is a powerfully moving piece, especially in the second act. There were plenty of laughs, but the laughter was often halted by some intense drama and poignant moments. It is a

nicely balanced script that was played out on a cleverly stark set created by Chancie Jessop.

The play has a huge array of characters and each was beautifully defined by the cast of 14, which included the directors Alex Lanham and John Boyce; Lanham as the doctor and drunken janitor and Boyce as the mild mannered Dale Harding who led the other inmates. Also as co-directors they did an amazing job of keeping the show on the road and creating their own characters at the same time.

The play sees a group of disturbed men living out their lives in an American mental institution. They are joined by Randall P McMurphy, a criminal who had deliberately had himself committed into the institution as a psychopath to escape boring work on the prison farm. He is brash, arrogant and defiant. He was played by an impressive Shaun King. But he meets is match in “the system” personified by Nurse Ratched, the smiling assassin.

She was played by Cat Shaw. At first I thought she was too sweet and gentle to be the iron lady, but she soon revealed the metal and became quite a chilling character. Certainly not one you would want to cross!

What amazed me was how little things have changed in 50m years. The mental illnesses are familiar, the battle against bureaucracy is the same and the system is still hard to beat. It was a bit scary really.

In Act one we met the inmates, the deaf-mute American Indian who stood, like a cigar store Indian in a corner for much of the time, played by Matthew Nisbet, the stuttering Billy Bibbit, played by Emile Regano, Greg Stiff as Cheswick, Julian Hobson as the over-hyper Scanlon, Oliver Catton as Martini and John Young as the lobotomised Ruckley.

They were all excellent and never once lost character.

I also enjoyed the performance of Amelia Slatter as the nervous Nurse Flinn. She was a nice counterpoint to Nurse Ratched. Daniel Baker and David Murdoch were gently evil as a pair of institutional aides and a welcome bit of glamour was added with party girls Candy Starr and Sandy played by Emma Reynolds and Savina Ivanova.

The illegal party scene was one of the best with its undertow of desperation and rebellion.

Even with so much exposition the first act flowed well, but it really came into its own in Act Two when the tensions boiled over and the surprises kept coming. It was truly entertaining and is well worth seeing.

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