One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
By Dale Wasserman, from the novel by Ken Kesey. Directed by Alan Cooke and Donna Clayton-Smith. Townsville Little Theatre. Pimpac Theatre, Townsville. 11-14 July 2018.

It was with some apprehension that I entered the auditorium for this performance as this play (and film) has an impressive pedigree.

For those who do not know the book, play or film, it is set in a psychiatric hospital which becomes the background for a battle between conformity (sanity?) and rebellion (insanity?). Its combination of comedy and drama looks at institutional processes and human behaviours. Time magazine included the book on its Top 100 Best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005 list, and the film won five Academy Awards in 1975.

Well, any doubts that I had about this group’s abilities to pull it off were quelled within the first 20 minutes of the performance, and what emerged at the end of the night was a good stab at a modern classic, carried by two outstanding central performances and a strong ensemble cast.

After a slow start – the opening scenes could have done with some tighter direction in terms of creating overlapping conversation – the play quickly grasped its rhythm, and once the central character Randle P.McMurphy (Luke Reynolds) stepped on the stage, the performance did not let up for a second.

Luke Reynolds was outstanding in the central character as the rebellious McMurphy – in a role which earned Jack Nicholson his first Academy Award. As the free-spirited con man who comes to the ward as an easy way of escaping a spell on the prison farm, Reynolds brought a machismo to the role which made me realise just how magnificent Kirk Douglas would have been in the original stage play in 1963. Reynolds owned the stage and gave a magnetic performance which the others in the company played off.

His confrontations with Nurse Ratched, played with controlled menace by Kath Hotschilt, were key scenes to the success of the play. Hotschilt’s performance in a role which earned Louise Fletcher an Academy Award was equally outstanding, and her calm tyranny over the psychiatric ward was a perfect foil for the histrionics of McMurphy, as the battle for control of the ward is fought. One perfectly understood why the patients (and staff) were terrified of her.        

Notable among the strong ensemble cast were Richard Price as Dale Harding, the unofficial leader of the patients, who is ashamed of his repressed homosexuality; Kevin Fujii, an impressive presence as Chief Bromden; Stephen Smith as Cheswick, and young Zhane Walker as Billie Bibbit.

The two directors have achieved a great deal against all odds. What needs to be remembered is that this is amateur theatre, but given better facilities and a larger budget for sets it would be wonderful to see what could be achieved.

A great achievement for a local amateur company.

Trevor Keeling

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