One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Canberra Theatre

22 Mar

I like the Courtyard Studio at the Canberra Theatre: its seats are relatively comfortable, the tiering between rows is right so you can actually see, and there’s a real intimacy – perfect for many forms of theatre. It works just right for the local production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

I recall the film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as one of my favourite movies, but it’s been more than a decade since I’ve seen it so it’s easy to watch Tom O’Neill’s play without making direct comparisons.

The actors who form part of the mental asylum ensemble are on stage as we take our seats: unmoving, with their heads in their hands or facing the walls. The scene’s set, and remains unchanged for the whole play: the wardroom design is clever and suits every scene.

These actors – Graham August as Dale Harding, Joshua Bell as Billy Bibbit, Evan Packard as Scanlan, Sam Williams as Cheswick, Gary Hopwood as Ruckley and John Lombard as Martini – maintain strong performances throughout the play (August, Bell and Williams are standouts): it’s as much about them and their own struggles rather than simply serving as backdrop and context to the psychological war between sane Randle P McMurphy (Ben Drysdale) and Nurse Ratched (barb barnett).

Randle’s sane – he doesn’t have the same internal struggles as the others – but because of that he resists Nurse Ratched’s oppressive and damaging style. This is where the play is let down, I think – it could be the strength of and time devoted to the supporting characters, or perhaps barb barnett is a little too subtle, too human, and can’t quite match Drysdale’s exuberance with cool, cutting words and stares – but there’s no crescendo of the tension between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy. While the climax is chilling, it was always going to be: sadly, the lack of build up means the opportunity to leave us feeling haunted is missed.

Paul Robertson’s performance as Chief Bromden stands out. He stole the show even when just sitting silent and staring. His slow, methodical sweeping throughout the interval was a genius method to ensure the play’s two parts were connected. I’m less convinced of the need for a young Chief Bromden; while Martin Hoggart’s performance was strong, it didn’t add much for me.

For my criticisms, it’s enjoyable, engaging theatre – just more well-rounded then sharp-edged.

Date: Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Where: Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, Civic

Cost: $70 for two adult tickets ($25 per ticket for concession)

Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile

Want more? The play is on tonight (Saturday, 22 March), and Wednesday 26-Saturday 29 March at 8pm. Buy tickets here or call (02) 6275 2700.


2 Responses to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Canberra Theatre”


  1. Coming Up in 2014 #3 | In The Taratory - March 24, 2014

    […] local production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is on this Wednesday-Saturday. Tickets are cheap at $35 for adults or $25 for concession (but if […]

  2. Coming Up in 2014 #4 | In The Taratory - July 2, 2014

    […] A local production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest […]

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