Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, about life in a mental institution, was published 50 years ago this year in 1962, with Dale Wasserman’s theatrical adaptation appearing one year later. In this anniversary year, the LOST Theatre’s revival provides an atmospheric retelling that feels contemporary.
Central to the production are some strong performances, centred largely around some of the mental hospital’s inpatients. Lee Colley’s stammering, nervy Billy, and Richard Forster’s obsession compulsive Frank, stand out. Effective too is Dwayne Washington, who as native American Chief Bromden delivers a series of monologues that pepper the play. While his dialogue all too often has to compete with some overloud music, they are accompanied by frankly beautiful shadow puppetry visuals by Tom Munday which are the visual highlight of the evening.
Less successful is the power play between disruptive new inpatient, Randle P McMurphy (Sean Buchanan) and the head nurse, Miss Ratched (Annabel Capper). This relationship is at the heart of the play, but never quite clicks into place. McMurphy’s constant needling, pecking away at the edges of Ratched’s carefully controlled environment, doesn’t quite build up the tension as effectively as it should.
This doesn’t stop the second act’s denouement from working, however. Most effective here is Francis Adams, who brings a quite calm to psychologist Dr Spivey. His overruling of Ratched’s rule — the point which marks the beginning of the end — is gently and subtly underplayed, at once completely in character and a significant change.
The final moments of Paul Taylor-Mills’ production produce some genuinely heart-stopping moments. But to get to that point, some of the script’s subtext feels as if it has been overlooked. In general, though, strong performances and visuals make this a worthy anniversary tribute.