Review: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Regis Theatre Company. The Duchess Theatre. Long Eaton

Ken Kesey’s multiple prize-winning novel, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was adapted for the stage by Dale Wasserman in 1962 and had a Broadway run in 1963 starring Kirk Douglas as Randle P McMurphy and a young Gene Wilder as Billy Bibbit and Joan Tetzel as Nurse Ratched. 1975 saw the story transferred to film, famously starring Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd. It has been a drama classic ever since, yet Wasserman’s gorgeous stage play isn’t often given an airing of late. It should – it has everything; a compelling story, dramatic moments suffused with darkly comical ones, an odd kind of hero for the common ‘mentally ill’ man, pathos and surprises and an evil witch (dependent on your viewpoint). What’s not to like already?

Regis Theatre Company have taken on the challenge of casting and directing (directors Amy Clover and Kheenan Jones) this terrific play and they, in card playing parlance, have come up trumps with a four-star production and superb main part casting with Kathryn McAuley as Nurse Ratched, Adam Guest as Dale Harding, Jack Readyhoof as Randle P McMurphy and Desrick Francis as Chief Bromden.

The brilliant amateur cast also includes Andrew Bould (Billy Bibbit), Kheenan Jones (Scanlon), Harvey Latter (Cheswick), Jorge Dinez (Martini), Evie Burke (Aide Warren), Rob McAuley (Aide Wiliams), Milly Clover (Nurse Flinn/Sandra), Ben Sherwin (Dr Spivey) and Meg Hill (Candy). The whole talented ensemble come together to create staff, patients and visitors on the Acutes ward at a state mental hospital circa 1960 in the state of Oregon USA. Played against a simple set this One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is an electrifying sure fire hit and only playing for three nights 6-8 June at The Duchess Theatre Long Eaton. This review is of the final dress rehearsal. You’d be properly bonkers not to see it.

The original novel is narrated from the viewpoint of Chief Bromden, an allegedly deaf and mute native Indian incumbent at the mental hospital. Bromden spends his days sweeping the wards and is bullied by the aides. So, in reading the novel, you hear his voice and troubled thoughts even if he doesn’t speak. In the play version Chief Bromden is periodically a vocally out-loud narrator of his conversations with his dead Papa. Desrick Francis is a revelation in this Regis Theatre Company production as the Chief. His voice and acting has a real soul to it and from his very first speech which ends “… you think I’m ravin’ cause it sounds too awful to be true, but, my God, there’s such a lot of things that’s true even if they never really happen.” one is utterly gripped. Then he descends into a mute silence and defeated body shape – an observer of the chaos about to ensue and a man with a big surprise up his sleeve in the second act.

Kathryn McAuley is perfectly cast as the duplicitous ice queen Nurse Ratched.  Her low tones seemingly born and articulated out of a professional need to care and protect the mentally ill are cleverly woven into a much deeper need to totally control and manipulate everyone on her ward and throughout the mental hospital. McAuley captures the very essence of Nurse Ratched, a former army nurse, and she does so by subtly portraying her with an unshakable sanctimonious piety and puritanical sexlessness. The cruel practice that comes from women being taught in the 1950s to remain subdued and ‘in their place’ is reversed in Ratched with her male patients and the cruel ideology becomes, in her hands an instrument of power and emasculation. The river of cruelty masked as care runs very deep in McAuley’s Nurse Ratched and her portrayal including McAuley’s  top dog sly smiles and prolonged and silent dark-eyed insinuations is brilliantly and scarily achieved as she attempts to control the boisterous newcomer Randle P McMurphy.

McMurphy (Mack) is given an energetic and totally believable turn by Jack Readyhoof. In his roister doister riling up of the inmates and especially Nurse Ratched, we see a young actor that has clearly worked hard on his character. In his many appearances throughout the play we get a real feel for not only what is happening in the story of McMurphy’s new life in the mental health institution as a committed inmate, but Readyhoof also gives us a tangible recognition of his dangerous past that now informs how he behaves and misbehaves with others.  His performance is electric and his interactions with the other Acutes, especially Adam Guest’s Dale Harding, in the post sterile world of the asylum, now ringing loud with the wildness of laughter and bawdiness is a joy to watch. Readyhoof’s Randle P McMurphy, initially, a brash alpha male irritant and far too familiar loud-mouth, eventually becomes a sympathetic character – but you wouldn’t want to be locked up all day with him! His major scenes with Chief Bromden, Nurse Ratched and Dale Harding are excellently done.

Adam Guest as the philosophical intellectual Dale Harding is compellingly good and Guest’s outstanding performance in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is worth the ticket price alone. Never a showy actor, the instinctive Mr Guest could act himself to life as a dead rat on the stage and he would have you listening to the many and varied nuances of every bubble and squeak of its reformation. From personal experience, if actors aim to get to a point in rehearsals where they are secure in their lines about a month before performance then their performances will take on a true confidence that will convince the audience as reality on stage. I believe this method is called dedication and Mr Guest has that in spades. His bright performance as beat up husband Dale Harding is as affecting as it is amusing. When he speaks in group therapy about how he believes Nurse Ratched is ‘a veritable angel of mercy’ and kindness personified you believe it – you are sucked into his interpretation – and then he turns it on his head and bashes the hell out of his notions.

From Andrew Bould’s lovable Billy Bibbit terrified of upsetting his mother to the point of self-harm and a debilitating stammer to the childlike Cheswick played great intent by Harvey Latter to the rest of the gifted ensemble Regis Theatre Company’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is a moving and often amusing theatrical treat playing, and I repeat, playing, ONLY for three nights – 6th to 8th June at the Duchess Theatre Long Eaton. It’s a knock out of a production directed with gusto and style by Kheenan Jones and Amy Clover. Regis’ founder Ollie Turner should be very proud of this one.

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