Lights out at the Curve, for the production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, offers brief respite from a spectacular set that tips your mind with an optical illusion that on a bad day could turn Salvador Dali’s stomach. Set designer Ellen Cairns’ chequered-floored 1960s asylum – complete with scuff-marked whitewashed walls, caged windows and swinging dormitory doors – recreates the ominously long hospital corridors we’ve all seen in our nightmares. You hear it whispered as the crowd take their seats.
Lights up (harsh, fluorescent hospital lights) reveals a cast of men, two orderlies included, who are systematically pecked into submission by the authoritarian ward policies of Nurse Ratched. Actress Catherine Russell’s Nurse Ratched fires out her lines in a voice so shrill it drowns out every male low- tone on stage. A menace of misguided motherly love, enshrined by a mental health system that treats illness with punishment, her feminine intent is to castrate, once and for all, the brains of “boys” made small by the realities of the outside world.
Chief Bromden, played by De Montfort University theatre graduate Thomas Renshaw, dominates the stage periodically from the first act. He delivers internal monologues that defy the blandness of ward policy with a lyrical beauty he keeps locked up in his mind. The “fighting and fucking” masculine yang to the Chief’s softly, lyrical yin is prison inmate turned mental patient Randle McMurphy – played by the strutting and rutting actor Michael Beckley.
McMurphy – scolded by Nurse Ratched for such heinous crimes as singing in the bathroom – galvanises the “boys” through the example of his masculinity and with the help of Candy, his favourite hooker, into a medicated state of rebellion. Beckley’s accented comic lines come thick and his fast-talk, at times, demands concentration to catch every swaggering sentence. But his performance as McMurphy never falters. He grows from big-shot lover and joker into friend and freedom fighter in a dramatic pitted battle with Nurse Ratched. By the final act it’s clear who holds all the cards, but also that hope still stands taller than oppression.
Paul Joseph’s performance of the ‘chronic’ patient Ruckly demands a certain sort of stamina. Not only is Ruckly restrained mentally by Nurse Ratched’s equipment and surgical therapy, he is dramatically restrained to one or two movements, for nearly every single act, by director Michael Buffong.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a Curve production, deserves five stars. It’s insanely well-acted and directed throughout, and as funny as the funny-farm can be.
Runs until November 5. Matinees at 2.15pm and evening shows at 7.30pm.