Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Aug 3 – 19, 2017
Playwright: Dale Wasserman (adapted from novel by Ken Kesey)
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Matilda Brodie, Laurence Coy, Patrick Cullen, Anthony Gooley, Travis Jeffery, Felicity Jurd, Stephen Madsen, Wayne McDaniel, Joshua McElroy, Tony Poli, Nick Rowe, Di Smith, Wendy Strehlow, Bishanyia Vincent, Johann Walraven
Image by Marnya Rothe
The action takes place inside a male psych ward, except of course, the allegory is in reference to the mad world that all of us inhabit. In Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, McMurphy (made famous by Jack Nicholson in the film version) represents the wild man that we have to tame. He turns up full of life, impressing upon us that he is not in fact insane, but a product of nature in its splendid rawness, and is clearly out of place in this environment of medicated placidity. It is probably no surprise that in this 1962 work, it is a woman who is charged with the business of suppressing that sublime nature.
Nurse Ratched has successfully emasculated everyone we see, and McMurphy must find a way to escape her wicked depravity. Man’s authenticity is upheld as desirable and esteemed, even if all the women who cross McMurphy’s path are debased and humiliated. The rebel’s story is always a powerful one, and it is no different here, whether or not we warm to its central character. It is after all, a battle for dignity and innocence, and we will only be allowed to side with the righteous hero.
Anthony Gooley’s charisma serves him well in the role of McMurphy. Dynamic and intuitive, and effortlessly captivating, it is a pleasure to watch the actor fill the stage with his brand of robust theatricality. Simultaneously portraying qualities that are menacing and vulnerable, the character that he presents is complex, considered and hence, convincing. Ratched is a surprisingly human manifestation, under Di Smith’s interpretation. Hints of warmth and kindness make her a believable personality, but an impotent villain. In the absence of a formidable opponent, McMurphy looks to be a rebel without a cause, and dramatic tension is significantly compromised.
Director Kim Hardwick’s approach is a contemplative one, and although never lacking in verisimilitude, sections that deal with aggression and chaos, can seem too gently manufactured. Individual patients in the show are fascinating, often beautifully performed, but they feel strangely distant. Without a threatening presence, the group misses an opportunity to have us more viscerally engaged. The production however, boasts accomplished design work, especially noteworthy are Martin Kinnane’s lights; compelling when subtly rendered, and utterly remarkable when his creativity turns bold or extravagant.
We play by the rules, thinking them necessary for self-preservation, even when we judge them unsound. When one’s own sanity comes into question, it is invariably societal expectations that provide the measure at which behaviour must be gauged and contained, whether or not conditions of that acceptance are based in logic. McMurphy’s radical disobedience involves him acting from unmitigated impulse, alone, and the consequences he has to face are dire. It is true, that much of what we endure, is unfair. It is also true, that rules are made to be broken, and when the lunatics take over the asylum, redress can be achieved, if unity, and solidarity, can be found.