Marking the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ken Kesey’s novel, Paul Taylor-Mills production of this American classic is nothing if not assured. This touching production engages the mind and doesn’t fail to make you laugh.
This absorbing stage adaptation by Dale Wasserman opens with the arrival of anti-authoritarian Randle McMurphy, charismatically played by Sean Buchanan, at a mental institution after his conviction of the statutory rape of a fifteen-year-old girl. Despite showing no outward signs of mental illness, he decides to have himself declared insane in order to serve out his sentence in the relative comfort of a hospital. When McMurphy sees how submissive the patients are under the tyrannical control of Nurse Ratched, played here by a fantastic Annabel Capper, he resolves to antagonize her and undermine her authority as much as possible.
Buchanan and Capper are perfectly matched. They portray the fluctuating power struggle between the two characters without for one moment wavering in their commitment and energy. Buchanan as McMurphy is confident, compelling and surprisingly sympathetic while Capper is quietly formidable as Nurse Ratched. Her character is all the more chilling for her calmness, and her voice luxuriates in a composed, imperturbable authority. She appears to visibly age throughout the production, at one point terrifyingly losing her self-control, and yet she does not risk caricaturing Ratched as inhumane. Francis Adams shines as nervous, subservient Dr Spivey while elsewhere Lee Colley as Billy Bibbit, Anita Gollschewsky as Candy Starr and Bobby Bulloch as the catatonic Ruckly give stunning performances in supporting roles.
a balanced, complex, nuanced production which is ultimately highly rewarding for the audience
Taylor-Mills direction is commendable as he skilfully finds the humanity in the performances. He creates a balanced, complex, nuanced production which is ultimately highly rewarding for the audience. While there were a few moments of confusion, particularly in the rushed fight sequences, the cast took everything in their stride.
Tom Munday’s projections, accompanying Dwayne Washington’s well delivered monologues as Chief Bromden, were quite stunning. Using an effective shadow-puppet aesthetic, Munday captures Bromden’s elegiac tone perfectly. Howard Hudson’s lighting design was subtle but effective, and David Shields’ set, although insubstantial, captured the essence of the sterile ward. The origami birds featured in the set were beautiful, adding a striking symbolic quality to an otherwise naturalistic set.
While consistent and powerful, with an explosive conclusion and complexly drawn characters, it suffered from feeling somewhat safe. Nonetheless, this was a strong revival with a persuasive ensemble cast.
**** 4 stars
Runs until 31st March