“It’s sort of a pre-dress rehearsal,” the directors of EUTCo’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest tell us. They then reel off a list of things that aren’t quite finalised yet – the costumes, the sounds, the props – and hope we’ll give some feedback after the performance. It all sounds very self-apologetic, and far from finished – which makes what follows even more impressive.
Beginning its run at the Northcott next week, the play follows criminal Randle P. McMurphy, who pleads psychopathy to escape the prison farm. Yet life in a mental institution isn’t the easy break he hopes for, and his committal launches him into a world that proves amusing, infuriating and finally deeply disturbing.
“The film is this American classic that everyone kind of knows about,” directors Devon Amber and Lucy Green explain, “but as mental health awareness is something we feel quite strongly about, we thought it would be interesting to put on a play set in the 1960s, when things aren’t quite so politically correct, and bring it forward for a contemporary audience.”
Before the run-through begins, there’s something odd in the atmosphere. Maybe it’s the fact that the pre-rehearsal chatter is punctuated by white-coated actors wandering past with trays of plastic cups, or the eerie background noises being tested on the sound system. Either way, all signs point to this being an evening of thrillingly dark entertainment – which it is.
Considering opening night’s not for another week, things are already amazingly polished. Ieuen Coombs effortlessly channels McMurphy’s confident swagger, Harding is fabulously crafted at Freddie McManus’s hands, and Daniel Heathcote makes Billy’s timidity both painful and endearing. The patients are real – and they drag us into the world of the institution with unnerving ease. When the director calls “blackout!” I’m jolted back to the rehearsal room with a shudder.
Character work has been key in the play’s development: “we’ve got the actors to write letters to imaginary characters, and been on field trips,” explained the directors. “We took them to the Forum once as their characters, which was interesting!”
“Now we just can’t wait to get into the Northcott,” they continue. “It’s going to change the way the actors look at the whole play, being on the set and in costume.”
So why should we come along and watch? “It’s different. It engages with a story, and a protagonist, and you fall in love with different characters depending on what audience member you are. You’ll fall in love with maybe Cheswick, or Martini, because you relate to them.”
Randle P. McMurphy’s brutal catapult into the world of mental illness looks set to charm, engross and horrify audiences – it’s already doing this in rehearsal rooms, which makes me suspect EUTCo is going to bring something incredibly exciting to the Northcott next week.
EUTCo’s production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is at the Northcott Theatre from 18 -21 February. Tickets available here.
Hannah Butler, News Editor
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