I speak from personal learnings when I say that most people are probably unaware that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was a play on Broadway before it was that classic film starring Jack Nicholson. That the play has even starred the likes of Danny DeVito (who went on to reprise his role in the film), Kirk Douglas and Gene Wilder, our beloved late Willy Wonka. Who knew right? I certainly didn’t! It is this play that Sport For Jove have currently adapted on the Seymour Stage.
Given the film is a little more familiar to everyone though, be assured that the play is quite consistent. Chief Bromden (Wayne McDaniel) still narrates alongside the events of the ward (although I did find this a little more distracting in the play) and the whole cast of characters are here. It does take a little while to get into things, but once you’re past that initial hurdle of about 30mins you get well and truly admitted to the clinic with your “fellow psychopaths”.
The staging itself is clinicly stark, with a sort of trash trough at the front of the stage that fills with more “garbage” as the play progresses- cigarette butts, toilet paper, paper cups and the like. The lighting is really the standout stage designing here- flicking on and off between Chief’s narrations and the goings on of the clinic. A stronger flickering of the lights also occurs in the moments of tension- such as the electroconvulsive therapy.
It is Anthony Gooley that really cements the tie-in with the film however, being a fantastic fit for the iconic Nicholson-esque role of Randle P. McMurphy. His drawl is spot on, as is his simmering frustration and that low-key feeling of instability. Gooley stated in an earlier interview that although no actor wants to impersonate another, you don’t want to fall into doing something “drastically different just to satisfy your actor’s vanity”- a smart choice by Gooley and one which really makes sure the production doesn’t steer too far into the unfamilar.
Travis Jeffery creates a equally believable Billy Bibbit, the character I believe draws the most audience sympathy. Tony Poli as Dale Harding has some fantastic moments of monologue and a somewhat “background” performance by Stephen Madsen as Ruckley stands to remind us that this IS actually a mental institution- a fact that could easily get lost amongst the dialogues of the self-admitted patients.
The play is a brilliant recreation of the original novel, one which I believe author Ken Kasey was more forgiving of. What I found to be most pertinent is that the powerful lines were delivered with the required gravity, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.
“What do you think you are, for Chrissake, crazy or somethin’? Well you’re not! You’re not! You’re no crazier than the average asshole out walkin’ around on the streets and that’s it. ”
Fly into the Seymour Centre to see One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest before August 19th. For more information and to book visit sportforjove.com.au