Whirlwind for actress Jenny as she steps into Sheffield Crucible play at last minute

Jenny Livsey as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Jenny Livsey as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

The last few days have been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for actress Jenny Livsey, who stepped in at the last minute to replace an injured cast member in a starring role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

Jenny has done a brilliant job in taking over the role of Nurse Ratched from The Durrells TV series regular Lucy Black, who suffered an injury on Sunday that meant she wasn’t fit enough to continue in the role, after appearing in some previews last week.

Based like the hit 1975 film on Ken Kasey’s novel, the story follows small-time criminal McMurphy, who opts to spend his jail sentence in a psychiatric ward.

As the reality of his incarceration dawns, he comes up against the authoritarian Nurse Ratched, who is not about to give up on her regime of discipline and order without a fight.

Jenny plays the role that won Louise Fletcher an Oscar, one of five that the film scooped.

She appeared as Nurse Ratched last October at the Torch Theatre in Milford Haven, Wales, so was an obvious choice to approach to take on the job.

The offer came in a phone call out of the blue on Sunday from Sheffield Theatres artistic director Rob Hastie.

Jenny said: “The way that Rob dealt with the phone call was amazing. He didn’t beat about the bush. It was a very strange phone call, obviously, because I’d never met Rob before.

“He said who he was and he said we’re doing Cuckoo’s Nest. I said, ‘Yeah, I know you are’.

“When we did ours, people in our cast were saying, ‘We should take it on tour’ then we were going we can’t because Sheffield are doing it, because of the rights to the play and stuff.

“Then I thought, ‘It’s just a chat about our version’. That’s what went through my head. Then he explained what had happened.

“He said, ‘Is there any possibility you could be here by lunchtime tomorrow?’ It took me about three seconds to say, ‘Yes, of course I can’.”

Jenny sat and read the play through before she went to bed and, after a sleepless night, jumped in her car at 7.30am, chucked her bag in the back and drove from Cardiff to Sheffield.

Then she was straight into rehearsals and, amazingly, went on stage at the Crucible for the first time for a preview on the same night.

“I got here and got straight into it. It was just a whirlwind, really. Everybody has been so amazing. They’ve made it so easy for me, all the logistical stuff that’s got to happen.

“They’re such lovely people, considering I’ve never met any of them before.”

Jenny added; “I’ve stepped into shows before when people have redone shows and somebody hasn’t been able to do the show, but you get a couple of weeks rehearsal.

“Luckily it was only last autumn when I did it. In the car on the way up I was going through lines and a lot of them were still there.

“Our production was very different. We didn’t have a Dr Spivey for starters. Some of the scenes were bang on, exactly the same and some of them I didn’t recognise at all.

“I know the sense of the scenes and what happens but the actual lines are different.

“For safety I had a copy of the script. People love it when something happens in theatre.

“Because it’s live, that’s the magic of it. They have been wonderful audiences, so supportive. It was amazing.”

Jenny and the cast got standing ovations and cheers at the first two shows and the cast also applauded her.

Because everything happened so fast, she didn’t even have a chance to tell family and friends, so had no guests of her own at the press night on Tuesday.

It’s a strange theatre for Jenny so a member of staff has been leading her around and she’s had to find out quickly where all her entrances and exits are, including the routes under the stage.

Jenny said: “You just find yourself in a strange situation. It’s all moving forward and Javaad (Alipoor, the director) seems happy. It’s all good.

“By the weeknd I’ll stop and go, ‘what happened’? I’m still on the conveyor belt, more just trying to get sleep and eat properly.”

Speaking yesterday, she said: “I’ve only spent two nights in Sheffield so far and I’m about to do show number three! It’s all a bit crazy but all good.”

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is at the Crucible, Sheffield until June 23. Box office: www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk

Julia Armstrong's review of the show:

Apart from the odd sly glance at a folder to check her upcoming lines, Jenny Livsey gave an extraordinarily assured performance as Nurse Ratched in this sometimes gut-wrenchingly powerful production.

She really created a sense of exerting power over patients by manipulation, mainly hidden behind a mask of clinical efficiency and her expressed desire to help sick people get better, until it burst loose as she fought to regain control.

The production, directed by Javaad Alipoor, built up very well as it went on from scenes establishing the different characters until you rooted for them as they gradually gained confidence from newcomer McMurphy to defy Ratched’s authoritarian regime.

Joel Gillman was absolutely convincing as bad boy McMurphy, moving between comic bravado and a touching ability to connect with the silent Chief.

Jeremy Proulx expertly moved between powerful monologues speaking what went on in his head and the broken Native American character the world saw.

A joyful scene where the patients smuggled in booze and women for a party was a fantastic contrast to the unbearably painful one where McMurphy and the Chief were given electric shock treatment.

Arthur Hughes was excellent as the tragic Billy and the whole cast was very strong.

Everyone deserved their standing ovation, but Jenny Livsey doubly so.