Directed by Kim Hardwick
Sport for Jove
Corner of City Road and Cleveland Street, Chippendale
Season: 3 – 19 August
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is renowned for its adaption to film, its overwhelming Oscar success, and Jack Nicholson’s stellar performance. Kim Hardwick’s stage production captures the complex and endearing characterisations and relationships in the mental institution, making for a sweet and engaging show. While individual scenes are compelling and grasp firmly your attention, the overall dynamics of the show aren’t well sustained to sufficiently build to the climax necessitated by the narrative.
Given the intimidating legacy of Nicholson’s performance over the role of McMurphy, Anthony Gooley had some large shoes to fill. Yet he impresses with vast charisma and energy. Gooley takes ownership of the room he steps into, quickly capturing the esteem of the other men in the institution. We warm keenly to McMurphy and his respect for, and occasional manipulation of, the other men allows us to partake in the comical nature of the piece without making fun of the characters with various cognitive disabilities. Josh McElroy gives an honest and focused performance as Martini, with his complete immersion in the role allowing for good comic timing to wonderfully shine through. Stephen Madsen gives a committed performance as Ruckly with very little dialogue, yet fleshes out a full life force on stage. Travis Jeffery as Billy Bibbit is an underdog the audience is rooting for, amiable with his stutter and piteously low self-esteem. Jeffery impresses in the role. Wayne McDaniel is excellent as Chief, evoking the greatest empathy with the audience and is arresting even in silence and stillness. Bishanyia Vincent and Felicity Jurd enter later with boldness and vivacity to help McMurphy interrupt the daily mundaneness of the institution.
I think if characters that you’re meant to empathise with die or commit suicide, you should probably care. If you don’t, something has probably gone wrong along the way. The course of events in the play’s narrative didn’t sufficiently build to lead me to deduce that the event of a character dying was either likely, or believable. Luckily, in spite of this issue, the day-to-day relationships that form in the institution and the rules and measures that regulate them are amply fascinating to hold one’s attention.
Ultimately this is a play about freedom and control. It speaks fiercely about mechanisms in our society that aim to constrict and hammer people into a manageable mould. As shown, there are serious consequences in both succumbing and resisting this control – what alternatives do we have? Chief stands at the end as a symbol of freedom – but this freedom doesn’t come without violent cost.