|One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest|
|Published on Monday, 12 August 2013|
It's difficult to stage an adaptation of something that’s not only a beloved piece of literature, but which has also been made into a similarly revered film. Fourth Monkey's production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest manages to nail the fine line between paying respect to the traditional story and film, while tweaking the story just enough to make it their own. It's an intense piece of theatre, but done very well.
This is a fairly minimalist and modern take on Kesey's classic novel about life inside a psychiatric ward. Walking in, the audience is met with a pristine white set and harsh blue lighting. It's a little bit like entering a particularly disturbing dentist's office. Nurses are adorned in turquoise dresses with matching lipstick. Artistically it's very slick, which is all very well, but I was intrigued to see if the performances would match the professionalism of the set. Thankfully, Fourth Monkey are absolutely captivating.
In this adaption, the characters are for the most part female. Billy and Nurse Ratched are the only major characters to remain in the same gender as the original text. It makes for very interesting viewing, and a completely different dynamic. The gender reversals also allow the production to move away from any direct comparisons to more traditional images of characters. It's harder to compare something negatively to the original if the adaptation is completely, outrageously different.
There is some exceptional acting – in particular, the Scottish (with a strong Glaswegian vibe) McMurphy is absolutely stellar. She's a force to be reckoned with. A few of the characters have been merged into one, which seems a fairly natural decision considering the cuts that need to be made for a Fringe production. Fourth Monkey have also made some minor alterations to certain scenes – a decision that might throw some purists off. Personally, I quite liked the changes; they fit seamlessly into the wider narrative and displayed confidence in artistic vision.
The only serious gripe I had was with the ending, which I feel was unnecessarily abrupt. As a dramatic ending, it worked well, but the cast fails to emerge for a final bow, leading to an uncomfortable silence from confused audience members. This might have been fine, but the lighting doesn’t obviously signal the end of the production either. A fix to this would have significantly improved the mood of the audience emerging from the theatre.
However, this is a relatively small criticism in an altogether excellent staging of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Fourth Monkey haven't been afraid to add their own quirks to a classic, and perform it near perfectly. I was enthralled, disturbed and very entertained. You won't leave disappointed!
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