One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Centre Stage Theatre, Spring Hill (Starlight Theatre Co-op)


In their first year of production, Starlight Theatre hits all the right buttons with this production. While one cannot help but make comparisons with the famous 1975 Milos Forman movie, Terry Annesley has done a fine job in conveying the central themes that made this story so memorable.

The adaptation for the stage from Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel tells the story of Randle McMurphy (Bradley McCaw), who, with a statutory rape charge against his name, convinces guards at the local prison that he needs psychiatric care and is sent to a mental asylum. Once inside, McMurphy fits in seamlessly with the other patients with his animated, off-kilter personality, forming deep friendships with characters including Billy Bibbit (Tom Yaxley), Ruckley (Lindsay Fletcher), Martini (Quentin Ellison), Scanlon (James Trigg), Chief Bromden (Tim Hope-Hodgetts), Dale (Craig Wood), and Cheswick (Gary McEwan), but soon finds that the submissive condition of everyone inside is the direct result of the tyrannical and sadistic Nurse Ratched. What follows is a lesson in human dynamics, both revolutionary and reactionary, and a commentary in human sanity.

While the production values are obviously at the lower end, the production makes up for this with some excellent displays of acting. Bradley McCaw as McMurphy has to be especially commended not only for providing a wonderfully physical rendition but for keeping a flawless American accent throughout. Not to be unfair to everyone else, McCaw is the light that constantly shines, eclipsing all who come before him on stage. Throughout the night it is astonishing to watch his character move from the lively, carefree young man into a hard-nosed revolutionary.

Craig Wood as Dale Harding should also be celebrated, providing an ethereal and delicate performance to offset the showmanship of McCaw. Imogen Rogers as Nurse Ratched is just as cold-hearted and indifferent as Louise Fletcher in the big screen adaptation, showing that tyranny can reside in the hearts of good-looking, seemingly respectable nurses everywhere.

What is off-putting and unnecessary is the mixing of American and Australian accents. Although set in the United States but there needs to be a uniform decision on whether everyone or no one needs to use an American accent. For those who do use or attempt the American twang, only McCaw performs it uniformly well, while others (James McMenamin, Gary McEwan) merely disoriented the audience with a poor mix of Southern, Mid-West and East Coast inflections.

What this production of Cuckoo’s Nest does is bring the audience back to the fundamentals of theatre. That’s not to say that the production values are poor but simply that director Terry Annesley has used the space well while taking a minimalist approach. There is little to no music, costumes are simple and the stage is small but this simply means that the audience isn’t distracted from the human drama taking place.

And there is no shortage of drama. When the metaphorical curtain goes down the audience is left with some of life’s most potent lessons. Cuckoo’s Nest today is just as effective and forceful as it was back in the 1960s and ’70s, showing the hope and brutality of humanity and questioning the very structures that rule our lives.

— James Conlan
(Performance seen: Thu 25th September 2008)