“ONE flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest” – it’s a children’s nursery rhyme, but the location of this play is no nursery.
Rather, the insane asylum (there is no politer word for it) in which the play is set is a microcosm of the world itself, full of winners, losers, manipulation and power games between mighty opposites.
Those opposites are McMurphy, as sane as you or me, and the saccharine-sweet nurse Ratched, (“ratshit” to McMurphy), one of the most hateful characters in modern drama in her relentless, hypocritical drive to put down any of the natural human urges she spots.
Director O’Neill has chosen Australian accents for this American play, which generally work well, allowing his large and talented cast to focus on their cameo roles, which at times threaten to take the whole evening over.
But this is a desperately serious play, underscored by haunting original piano music played by the composer Steven Bailey.
Ben Drysdale gives the role of McMurphy his energetic all, playing to his last, hubristic moments with unrepentant vigour. barb barnett as Nurse Ratched overplays the aggressive sweetness, so that you’re not entirely convinced she will be the inevitable winner.
But – and this is almost unavoidable – it is Paul Robertson in the role of the gentle giant, Chief Bromden, who steals the show. Matched by Martin Hoggart as his younger self, he emerges from his assumed catatonic state to show that life, after all, will win out. The scene in which he, ever so tenderly, smothers the lobotomised McMurphy, is one of the most affecting I have seen in a long time.
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Ian Meikle, editor