Director Tamara Harvey hits the comic nerve but maladministers the shock with her lively yet surface staging of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. This production, which was first seen in Edinburgh in 2004, has energy and humour in spades but side-steps the more affecting scenes of Dale Wasserman’s 1960s drama celebrating the enduring rebellious spirit within conformist society.
When livewire and self-proclaimed con Randle Patrick McMurphy (Shane Richie, taking over from Hollywood’s Christian Slater who appeared in the play for two West End seasons) checks into a Pacific Northwest mental institution governed by matronly “ball-cutter” Nurse Ratched (Sophie Ward) the scene is charged for a clash of policy, pride and gender.
Richie proves a defiantly present McMurphy to Ward’s suitably sadistic Ratched, and the explosively opposed pair are joined by an amiable supporting cast that brings ample bedlam and reticent revolt to the daily proceedings of Wasserman’s mental hospital on the brink of revolution.
Brendan Dempsey cuts a menacing figure as the despondent Chief Bromden, and Kate-Lynn Hocking’s full-bodied and affectionate Candy Starr is a welcome, if extreme, alternative to the hard-nosed female presence within the all-male ward. Elsewhere, Harvey’s ensemble serves the script well when it demands an excess of physical gags and sympathetic comradeship; however, vital dramatic scenes, including the withheld apology and final mercy-killing, are without spark.
Designer Katy Tuxford’s static set of switches and LED lights benefits from animated pyrotechnics – projections of water, lightning and electricity – that crash and batter the upper proscenium during scene changes.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is an entertaining nostalgia that stops short of realising the play’s more unsettling qualities and sharply critical opinions about therapeutic institutions and the tyranny of policy-makers.