One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2004
The team that hit with 12 Angry Men returns with another American classic...
It was a difficult birth, thanks to the director quitting and the curse of the pox, but the biggest show on the Fringe did, finally, open. And what an impressive treat One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest proves to be.
Christian Slater was the one making the headlines, of course, as the Hollywood star parachuted in to boost the box office, if not here but at the ensuing West End run. And whatever the off-stage drama, he makes for a spirited, compelling Randle P McMurphy, the hollerin', yahooin' rebel who tries to shake up the arid, soulless atmosphere of the lunatic asylum he is committed to.
Slater has so often been compared to Jack Nicholson that it's a bold move to step into his straitjacket so deliberately. But his McMurphy is no carbon copy of Nicholson's brilliant film portrayal, even if the same spirit and energy is there.
What comes as even more of a surprise is that for all Slater's fame, and the extravagant, showmanlike nature of his role, he doesn't steal the show. This is a genuine team game and each of the ensemble cast, most of whom are comics, rises to the challenge their diverse roles bring.
Mackenzie Crook, no small name himself, excels as the shy, stammering Billy Bibbitt, bringing out his social and sexual repression with sparse emotion but detailed performance.
Of the other inmates, all deserve praise for their flawless work, but there are too many to mention. Phil Nichol, for one, is almost unrecognisable as the painfully shy buttoned-down simpleton while Ian Coppinger brings an impish cheek to Martini, the hallucinator in a flying helmet.
Brendan Dempsey perfectly captures the crushed pride of Chief Bromden, while Owen O'Neill's Harding seems the most outwardly sane inante, but he too brings a subtlety to the role, especially when Nurse Ratched's sadistic, prying questioning leaves him a broken man.
Ratched runs the ward with a rod of iron, the ultimate authority figure unbending in her adhesion to the rules and ruthless in her determination to cling to her status Frances Barber depicts Ratched as emotionally void, callously manipulating the lives of her patients simply because she can, even though it seems to bring her no pleasure.
The irony is that the patients are complicit in their own oppression. "It's for your own good" is the mantra, and they all believe it.
Although Dale Wasserman's script, and Ken Kesey's original novel, is clearly an attack on the dehumanising way mental patients are treated, the asylum as a metaphor for wider society is impossible to miss.
RP McMurphy is the free spirit, kicking out against tyranny despite the apathy of his fellow citizens. He is an irresistible force who tries to shift an immovable object, an analogy that's made literal. And even though he failed, the achievement's in the trying.
Inexorably, he and Ratched move towards a showdown. And it's when they do finally square up that the slightest of cracks start to show up in the otherwise compelling production.
When Ratched erupts with falsely indignant fury to goad McMurphy into desperate retaliation, the natural realism seems to evaporate. Barber is too obviously giving a shouty performance rather that drawing on the spite in her character's black heart
Similarly the tragic final moments of the two-hour piece fail to reach the emotional intensity they should after such a rollercoaster ride: the inevitability of McMurphy's fate seeming just another episode in asylum life, rather than the tearful climax it should have been.
But this slight disappointment in the dying minutes does not detract from the brilliance of the work in bringing such weighty but entertaining piece to vivid life. Its Assembly Rooms run sold out on anticipation, but it will continue to thrive beyond the Fringe because it delivers on that promise.
Zoe Mercer - 15/09/2004
Having watched the film for the first time a week before, it was inevitable that I would be comparing the play to the film. The performances were verydifferent and nuances of the underlying messages were different in each. I found the film emphasised the racism and the absolute power of Nurse Ratchett. In the play, I found that the struggle between McMurphy and Ratchett much more personal and sexually charged. I found myself more involved with the non committed patients especially Owen O'Neil's Harding. Although Crook seemed at first that he was portraying shy and quiet aspects of Billy a little too much, I really missed him when he was not on stage. Christian Slater was born to play this part and I believe he excelled in the role. He had so much more passion and I could understand why McMurphy took the path he did much more thanks to his performance. He was rougher, sexier and dare I say it, even more enigmatic than Nicholson. Two main gripes: The sometimes questionable accents and the make-up on the white guy playing the Indian was orange and patchy.
Lol - 10/09/2004
I really enjoyed it.Perhaps unfairly I couldn't help comparing it to the film, and unfortunately Frances Barber's interpretation of Nurse Ratched came across as bossy (and at times hysterical) - I preferred the sinister, ice cold calm of Louise Fletcher's version. Loved the inmates though, found myself really relating to the chief in particular. The story itself is always a winner and Slater had the charisma to take on McMurphy with some style
Norman Dee - 09/09/2004
I thought it was weak. But it was cursed from the beginning by whoever decided to enrol Christian Slater, they didn't need this gross publicity stunt, he's not a great actor so why the need? The set was very cool, very slick. The atmosphere was nervous and exciting and then someone let this overactive performing baboon on the stage. I was disappointed, not just for me but for the comedians who had proved their talent in the theatre the year before who probably wanted to come back and give the crowd that had so embraced them a stealth performance. Slater was rubbish, no charisma, he touched me not and by the end I really didn't want him to. In a nutshell, the play was an ego trip, it had been eaten up by the greedy investors who wanted glory and forgot who the audience where, and most of all who had the real talent that created the magic of the year before. Stupid fools.
Wesley Strider - 23/08/2004
A bit clunky in parts but a great bit of afternoon theatre. Mackenzie Crook couldn't shake his West Country twang, "Shouty performance" comment above accurate for Frances Barber but Slaters presence ensured the audience remained on-side.
P. Brown - 19/08/2004
Competent, if always struggling to be anything more than an imitation of the film. Too much impersonation, not enough genuine characterisation, though there were a few likeable performances, especially from the in-patients. The main flaw, though, was that it failed to have genuine emotional impact. The strength of theatre over film is the ability to hit the emotional highs but, while the laughs were there, the tears were patently not. The ending, in particular, was unsatisfactorily reworked due to technical limitations
G. Knight - 18/08/2004
Brilliant! Saw it two days ago and still love it. great cast and real ensemble playing, particularly Phil Nicol, Gavin Robertson and Ian Coppinger. Al mad - but then they would be wouldn't they?
Steve Deacon - 16/08/2004
A great ensemble show, moving and funny. Slater is perfect as RP McMurphy. A great theatrical experience go see it in London's West End. The comics have taken over the asylum, and it's a joy.
Alan Smith - 12/08/2004
Brilliant! All the cast are excellent particularly Frances Barber and Christian Slater.