It’s a brave challenge indeed to adapt such a monolithic classic of literature - and now film - onto stage. But it being the 50th anniversary of Ken Kesey’s novel this year director Paul Taylor-Mills thought the time is ripe to revive Dale Wasserman’s play first produced in 1963, a mere year after the novel was published.
It is said that Kesey later told Wasserman himself that but for the play his novel would be forgotten, yet with the benefit of hindsight it’s actually the film that deserves that accolade and ironically the play that has been somewhat lost in the annals of history.
The question is, does the stage version hold up to a 21st century audience? Judging from the first class performance on display tonight that would be a resounding yes. It’s clear that the play has not lost any of its original flair and humour that kept it apart from the novel.
Sean Buchanan’s Randle P McMurphy is more energetic and charismatic than Jack Nicholson's, without the luxury of screen breaks, and Paul Cleveland as Charles Cheswick displays the perfect balance of menace and madness in his face alone.
Annabel Capper does a decent turn in a difficult role as Nurse Ratched, or “nurse rat shit” as McMurphy refers to her, at one point improvising during a rant by booting a blood stained apron across the stage after it accidentally falls off.
But the temptation to, wrongly, compare the play to the film is a hard one to avoid and a younger audience will perhaps not appreciate the differences. The bottom line is that the play is its own homage to the novel and lends an insight that the film does not.
With such memorable acting and some well delivered jokes, albeit dark ones, you can be sure that this production at least stands on its own two feet.
- Will Stone