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Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at the Crucible Sheffield
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at the Crucible Sheffield

Inevitably the first consideration on press night was how the late replacement as Nurse Ratched, Jenny Livsey, would cope after only a couple of days notice. The answer is she fitted seamlessly into a first-rate ensemble and you hardly noticed she was still on the book. It helps that a nurse carrying a folder of notes looks quite natural.

Cuckoo’s Nest, whether Dale Wasserman’s Sixties play, Ken Kesey’s novel or the Oscar-winning Seventies movie, centring on one Randle P McMurphy dodging a prison sentence by getting admitted to a psychiatric ward, is in many respects very much of its time. But Javaad Alipoor’s revival, rich in comedy and ultimately poignancy and horror, is immensely watchable.

At first the depiction of the disturbed patients threatens to fall into caricature but subtly the cast tone it down and the characters emerge in what is very much an ensemble piece.

McMurphy provides the energy and it is hard to take your eyes of a fine physical performance by Joel Gillman bringing out the vulnerability beneath the swagger . But Jack Tarlton as the scholarly Harding, Arthur Hughes as callow Billy Bibbitt and Jeremy Proulx as the enigmatic Chief also excel in the more rounded parts.

While the use of ECT has long been discredited and the attitude to women seems dated even in these #MeTwo times themes like uncaring authority, institutionalisation and the treatment of mental illness remain burning issues.

* Ian Soutar