The production suffered a run of bad luck on its first outing in 2004/5, as after a fraught few weeks in rehearsal, original director Guy Masterson withdrew from the production and Slater himself contracted chicken pox, forcing the cancellation of several performances during a pre-London run at the Edinburgh festival.
The production, directed by Terry Johnson and Tamara Harvey, eventually had its delayed London press night at the Gielgud on 16 September (previews from 3 September). The sell-out season continued until 1 January 2005, when Slater returned to the US for filming work, after scooping Best Actor in a Play at the 2005 Theatregoers’ Choice Awards, in which the production also won Best Play Revival.
Slater plays rebel RP McMurphy, a part immortalised by Jack Nicholson in Milos Forman’s Oscar-winning 1975 film. McMurphy, a violent, larger-than-life gambler who has faked psychosis to avoid the drudgery of a working goal, shakes up the existence of the other inmates in the mental hospital. The cast of eccentrics live out their banal routines watched over by the tyrannical Nurse Ratched and in constant fear of the brutal treatment dealt out in the 'Shock-Shop'. Randle vows to fight a one-man battle against the institution, risking losing the respect of the inmates, his life and chances of freedom. The ensuing power struggle between Randle and Nurse Ratched results in suicide, murder and liberation.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest premiered in 1963 on Broadway, where Kirk Douglas starred as McMurphy. The film version won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Nicholson and Best Actress for Louise Fletcher who played Nurse Ratched.
It has not been confirmed which, if any, of the other members of the production’s previous West End run – which included Frances Barber as Nurse Ratched, Mackenzie Crook as Billy Bibbitt and stand-up comics Owen O’Neill, Phil Nicol, Gavin Robertson, Ian Coppinger and Dave Johns as other patients in the asylum – will reprise their performances alongside Slater.
Currently at the Garrick, Peter Hall’s revival of George Bernard Shaw’s You Never Can Tell, starring Diana Quick and Edward Fox, is due to run until 11 March 2006. It opened on 7 November 2005 (previews from 25 October).
- by Caroline Ansdell
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