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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a CurtainUp London review CurtainUp

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A CurtainUp London London Review
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Is Back in London
Re-reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge

Christian Slater & Alex Kingston
In one of the short West-End runs beloved of stars who want to balance acting prestige with filming commitments, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest has returned to London.

Alex Kingston takes on the difficult role of replacing the matchless Frances Barber as Nurse Ratched. Nevertheless, in her impeccably bright red lipstick, she is good at portraying the imperturbable poise, the veneer of conferring benefit upon those she humiliates and the alpha, apparently omniscient power she holds. It is a fairly emotionless part and it is difficult not to feel that Kingston would have benefited from a part with more depth written into the character.

Chistian Slater reprises the charismatic part of Randle P. McMurphy and again, he is engagingly energetic as the incorrigible rebel. A celebrity actor brought in to play the part of a magnetic, exciting incomer is often a very successful tweak to the onstage dynamics. However, a strong even if obscure ensemble cast is really necessary if this is to work. In this case, the rest of the cast were slightly uneven. Brendan Dempsey as the enigmatic but ultimately inspiring Chief Bromden suffered from some distracting side-effects of race-blind casting (namely an orange tinge and a conspicuous wig line). Then again, Owen O'Neill was excellent as the articulate, effete

Dale Harding, sheltering in the institution from a mocking world. The set design was competent, with the uniform area of a sterilised, constricted living space with crackling electric noises which take on the menacing significance of numbing electric-shock therapy.

This production suffered from its theatre and would have been far more effective in a smaller auditorium, where the issues of freedom and imprisonment are presented to the audience in a more claustrophobic space. Also, there was room for better directorial innovation to cope with the shifts of tone from comedy to despairing poignancy. The play touches upon the very emotive topic of insanity and humanity but is more concerned with ideas of subjugation and individualism. Another director could have drawn out the unwritten nuances of these subjects with stunning visual inspiration.

Afficionados of the film, or of Christian Slater, will doubtlessly enjoy this One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest even if there is little originality or poignancy in this rather mediocre production.

Written by Dale Wasserman
Based on the novel by Ken Kesey
Directed by Terry Johnson/Tamara Harvey
Starring: Alex Kingston, Christian Slater
With: Simon Chandler, Ian Coppinger, Brendan Dempsey, Felix Dexter, Alan Douglas, Alex Gianni, Rebecca Grant, Katherine Jakeways, Cornelius Macarthy, Owen O'Neill, Paul Ready, Gavin Robertson, Lizzie Roper
Design: Katy Tuxford
Costume Design: Dagmar Morell
Lighting: Chris Davey
Sound: Matt Clifford
Running time: Two hours and 40 minutes with one intervals
Booking until 3rd June 2006
Re-reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge at the 29th March 2006 performance at the Garrick Theatre, Charing Cross Road London WC2 (Tube: Charing Cross) Box Office: 0870 890 1104
-- The original review by Lizzie Loveridge

When Guy Masterton - the brains behind last year's Edinburgh hit Twelve Angry Men, featuring stand-up comedians - decided to revive Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, he little guessed the lunatics would take over not only the asylum but also the production. He stepped down during rehearsals "for personal reasons". Now an outbreak of chicken-pox in the all-star company has hit Christian Slater who plays Randle P McMurphy, and the Fringe's hottest ticket is under doctor's orders.
--- Lynne Walker in The Independent Newspaper
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Chistian Slater as Randle P McMurphy
(Photo: Hugo Glendinning)
Guy Masterton conceived the idea of using stand up comedians in conventional acting roles and was due to direct One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival starring Christian Slater with a view to its coming into London. In the event, as alluded to above, Masterton resigned and Terry Johnson of The Graduate took over. Despite its misogynism, the play which Dale Wasserman fashioned from Ken Kesey's book has the makings of a modern classic. Those of us who were privileged to have seen Gary Sinise and the Steppenwolf Company in this work have trouble eradicating the memory of that outstanding production.

The effect of using so many non professional actors results in a rather patchy production. Although the minor roles are minor, they are crucial to the play's success. Christian Slater is adequate but not impressive in the role of the rebellious Randle P McMurphy. It would take a Jack Nicholson to carry this production on his own. Frances Barber as Nurse Ratched is in an acting class all of her own. She is as rapacious as boa constrictor. She has just to walk across the stage in her white uniform to mesmerise us and her icy delivery is crushing. We have no doubt as to who it is who is in control here.

With the performances so unbalanced, the contest between McMurphy and Ratched lacks the tension, the power struggle it needs. Well-known comedian from The Office, Mackenzie Crook is disappointing as the vulnerable Billy. He isn't really young enough to convince, he just looks anorexic and doesn't show here the acting range necessary for this part. I could make similar comments about the rest of the cast but don't want to labour a point. Suffice it to say that it is not enough to have a crazy mannerism to resonate the complexities of what it means to be a voluntary patient in this psychiatric facility. Imagine the inpatient's fear of what lies outside that makes it preferable to live under Nurse Ratched's tyranny.

One good effect of this production is the number of younger twenty and thirty somethings it is bringing into the theatre audience. The house was completely sold out the night I was there. This new audience may in part have come to see Christian Slater but they are also there to see the comedians they know from stand up and television. Despite my reservations about some of the performances, this play is still a powerful piece about liberty and control.

For Elyse Sommer's review of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest from the Steppenwolf Company of Chicago in New York click here

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Written by Dale Wasserman from the novel by Ken Kesey
Directed by Terry Johnson/Tamara Harvey

Starring: Christian Slater, Frances Barber
With: Brendan Dempsey, Stephen K Amos, Felix Dexter, Lucy Porter, Owen O'Neill, Mackenzie Crook, Phil Nichol, Gavin Robertson, Ian Coppinger, Dave Johns, Tim Ahern, Lizzie Roper, Katherine Jakeways
Set Designer: Katy Tuxford
Costume Design: Dagmar Morrell
Lighting Designer: Chris Davey
Sound: Matt Clifford
Fight Director: Terry King
Running time: Two hours forty minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 890 1105
Booking to 4th December 2004
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 17th September 2004 at the Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, W1 (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)
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