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Review
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
at the Gielgud Theatre

Review by Alan Bird
16 Sep 2004


One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, based on the cult novel written in the early 1960’s by Ken Kesey tells the story of institutional madness, where the mentally insane are drugged, electrocuted and lobotomised in order to enforce a frighteningly chilling notion of sanity, one where obedience and conformity are the only acceptable indications of good mental health.

This adaptation by Dale Wasserman, concerns Randle Patrick McMurphy, a petty criminal who rather than spend another term in the ‘slammer’ accepts the courts decision to send him to an asylum so that his mental health can be assessed. Being a natural rebel McMurphy soon questions the asylum’s procedures and begins to rally his fellow patients in increasingly greater acts of autonomy. However, genuine acts of autonomy, rather then the delusional ones that the asylum authorities perpetuate are not tolerated, and McMurphy learns that the authorities, in the form of Nurse Ratched, have terrible ways of enabling you to conform.

Christian Slater gives a charismatic performance as McMurphy, a lovable rogue who never quite manages to stay on the right side of the law. The charm-offensive with which he wins the loyalty of his fellow patients oozes with disdain towards those in authority. However, as dominant as Slater’s presence is on stage it is Frances Barber’s Nurse Ratchet that my attention kept re-focusing upon. Dressed in a lily-white crisp nurses uniform, with a slash of blood-red lipstick across her mouth it is easier to picture her as an angel of death, rather than of mercy! She appears to glide across the stage, more phantom-like than human. I imagine when this woman looks in a mirror there is no reflection stirring back at her, it is not blood but guilt this soulless creature craves. Even her voice is cloyingly nauseating as she calls her ‘boys’ to order. Cold and severe are the only words one could possibly use to describe her.

A terrific play that is superbly acted and not to be missed

(Alan Bird)
Web: Alan Bird Web site


What other critics had to say.....
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "I confess I wept my way through the last 40 minutes. Unforgettable." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Revival has the tension, humour and grip to persuade you that, no, it’s not seriously dated." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "There are many things to like about Slater's performance."

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