Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
Reviewed by Sam Pryce
Under the innovative directorial eye of Nerys Rees, this throttling production of Ken Kesey’s novel of the same name is much more unsettling than usual. With the addition of a surging mechanical soundtrack and disquieting lighting, the well-worn narrative has been successfully revived proving its timeless significance and its powerfully disturbing premise.
The oppressed and browbeaten patients of a psychiatric ward are given a newfound confidence when McMurphy saunters onto the scene. Believing he can get away with feigning insanity to escape the isolation of a prison cell, McMurphy realises his error when his insolence is challenged by everyone’s favourite literary battleaxe, Nurse Ratched. Determined to start a revolution against Nurse Ratched’s crippling regime, a rebellion is stirred amongst the previously docile patients in what promises to be a fascinating, explosive exploration of madness and the notion of sacrifice. In this production, director Nerys Rees toys with the idea of McMurphy being a saviour to the inmates, seeing as his irreverence helps to eliminate their inhibitions. When McMurphy eventually receives electroconvulsive therapy, he is splayed across a crucifix emphasising the concept that McMurphy sacrifices himself for the lives of the patients.
Whilst the entire company gave intelligent and disconcertingly believable performances, there were a few that deserve extra praise. Andreas Constantinou boasts all the audacious bravado required for a loveable McMurphy, coupling razor-sharp wit with a genuine desire to help his unhinged acquaintances. Darren Freebury-Jones injects visceral emotion and a sensitive rawness into his performance as Chief Bromden, Dale Matthews’ Billy Bibbit is adorable as ever and Scott Patrick causes copious cackling as Martini. And who could fault Delyth Mai-Coleman’s ruthlessly sadistic and brazenly sexualised Nurse Ratched? With pre-show improv in the foyer thrown in, the audience is able to get up-close-and-personal with insanity with the patients are let loose to wander, pester and interact with the evening’s spectators, creating a discomforting air even before the audience have taken their seats
As worn-out a tale as Cuckoo’s Nest may be, this production breaks the barriers and subjects its audience to two hours of ruthlessly engaging electroconvulsive entertainment. This is theatre that stops the audience coughing.