A sell-out in its original 2004/5 season at the Gielgud Theatre, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest returned to the West End last night (28 March 2006, previews from 21 March), this time for a strictly limited ten-week season at the Garrick Theatre, where Hollywood’s Christian Slater reprises his performance opposite a new leading lady in the form of ER’s Alex Kingston.

Last time around, the revival of Dale Wasserman’s play, based on the 1962 novel by Ken Kesey, suffered a run of bad luck early on. 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, co-directed by Terry Johnson and Tamara Harvey, eventually had its delayed London press night at the Gielgud on 16 September 2004 (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 Randle P 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 gaol, shakes up the existence of the other inmates in a mental hospital. The cast of eccentrics live out their banal routines watched over by the tyrannical Nurse Ratched (Kingston, who has taken over from Frances Barber) and in constant fear of the brutal treatment dealt out in the 'Shock-Shop'.

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.

In the West End, Brendan Dempsey (Chief Bromden), Ian Coppinger (Martini), Owen O'Neill (Dale Harding), Gavin Robertson (Scanlon), Lizzie Roper (Candy) and Katherine Jakeways (Sandra) reprise their roles from the original West End run, alongside newcomers Paul Ready (replacing Mackenzie Crook as Billy Bibbitt) and Alex Giannini (replacing Phil Nicol as Cheswick). The cast also features Rebecca Grant, Cornelius Macarthy, Felix Dexter and Simon Chandler.

Whatsonstage.com was on hand at last night’s opening, getting the pick of the pics for our 1st Night Photos and interviewing theatregoers, cast and creatives and attending the post-show (karaoke!) party at Brown’s – where guests included Julian Fellowes, Dexter Fletcher, playwright Laura Wade, newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky, Hollyoaks’ Lee Otway, Big Brother’s Michelle Bass, model Jasmine Lennard, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? cast members Bill Irwin, David Harbour and Mireille Enos as well as the Cuckoo’s Nest company, led by stars Christian Slater and Alex Kingston – for Whatsonstage.com TV.

- by Terri Paddock


TO VIEW ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST OPENING NIGHT TV FOOTAGE, JUST CLICK ON THE "PLAY" ARROW BUTTON TO THE LEFT OF THE TV SCREEN BELOW.


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