One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Mon 11th – Sat 16th August 2014


Emily Brearley-Bayliss

at 01:16 on 13th Aug 2014



Having not read the novel from which this play is adapted, I don’t know how this play compares with Kesey’s original, but as a dramatic entity it is definitely compelling. Set on the mental ward of a hospital, we follow the journey of a group of inmates as a new convict is added to the mix. The rules and regulations are quickly abandoned when R. P. McMurphy arrives, and we are left to ponder questions of crime, madness and morality. If nothing else, this play shows a human side to madness, and as the play descends slowly towards its tragic final we are left to ponder over the lives and relationships of the lunatics we meet.

Staged in the round, this incredibly physical performance fills the space and threatens to spill over into the audience. The cast are not overburdened with props or overwhelmed by the set, but the things that are used have a sinister purpose. The wheelchairs and restraints that are used on the patients show the attitude towards the mentally ill that prevailed in the 1960s, and how incapacitated the patients were, both mentally and physically.

Michael Hawkins gives a stunning performance in the starring role. He is both funny and intense, using dark comedy to lend humanity and likeability to his character. Likewise, Alice Asson is successful in extracting genuine feelings of hate from the audience. What begins as an uptight and controlling nature turns into pure evil by the end, and there is no doubt who the characters and the audience blame for the play’s tragic end. A genuine and toughing relationship develops between the Chief (Mark Raynor) and McMurphy, which makes the audience truly invested in the characters’ plight.

It is clear that this script has been cut down dramatically. This is an occupational hazard of putting a show on in Edinburgh, and it does mean that the ending seems slightly abrupt and that some scenes and characters are not properly developed. Many of the more harrowing scenes are done well, but do have the tendency for the screams to lapse into being loud rather than heartfelt and anguished. There are a lot of characters, so the action seems very spread out, and only Hawkins has the power to command the whole stage just by virtue of his acting.

Overall, this is a very powerful and involving performance, and a thought-provoking, if not entirely comfortable, way to spend an evening.


Rob Collins

at 09:46 on 13th Aug 2014



Adaptions of novels for the stage are never straightforward, especially given the restrictions of an hour performance slot. Unfortunately, this production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest was the worse off for it - it never quite felt like it got started.

The play followed the exploits of R.P. McMurphy, newly incarcerated in a British mental hospital, as he challenges the status quo on the ward and ‘beliefs about madness’. There were some excellent performances here. Michael Hawkins was impressive as McMurphy, playing the role with confidence and charisma. Mark Raynor's portrayal of Chief Bromden also stood out. His monologues which interspersed the show were a highlight whilst Darren Begley brought a real vulnerability to the character of William Bibbit. However I felt that Nurse Ratched lacked authority and could have done with more development.

There were a number of problems with the show - chief amongst which was the adaptation itself. It’s not to say that the play needed to be longer, but rather, less rushed. It felt a little bit like we were being given a whistle stop tour of the book and whilst this did enhance the start of the show, which had a good energy about it, it meant that the second half suffered greatly. Scenes such as Bibbit’s off stage suicide came and went so quickly that it was difficult for there to be any suspense or emotion about them. The last scene too was slightly spoiled, the scene between Hawkins and Raynor being a stand out moment of the show, only for it to be ruined by McMurphy being lobotomized and brought back on in what has to be record time. As a result, we were never quite drawn into the characters.

The staging also had its weak points. Whilst the fairly simple set, was perfect for this kind of play, the distance from the backstage to onstage felt too big, meaning that characters' entrances and exits took too long and felt just a tad pantomime-esque. Blackouts were also sloppy and fairly lazily adhered to by the actors at points.

There are some good moments in this production and some strong performances. Unfortunately these were let down by an overall rushed feeling.


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