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ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST | STAGE REVIEW

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Stage Review

photo: Drew Buckley

*****

Torch Theatre, Milford Haven

13 October 2017

Oh for f’…One Flew Over The…? Not that old thing again? God, we all know the story, we all know the themes. Read the book, seen the film, bought the Che Guevara-type T Shirt. And we’re all aware of the misgivings about the play: it’s been described as dated, misogynistic, theatrical comfort food scoring it’s victories at the expense of panto villain Nurse Ratched far too easily. A visit to see the Torch Theatre Company’s production of ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ would, therefore, seem as ill advised as a trip to the cellar in a low budget horror flick.

Yet, incredibly, all it takes is the thirty seconds of the beautiful, inspired opening tableau of the inmates peering through the nightime ward window, a framed painting in which the characters move, ever so slightly, to blow away all those doubts and make you realise this particular production is going to be very special, very special indeed: natural, inventive, original, funny, poignant, visually filmic, everything just right. Consequently the next two hours spent in the company of this terrific, top-notch ensemble cast is a sheer, full cream pleasure.

Oraine Johnson and Connor Allen as the two aides bristle with loping menace; and the steady-eyed poised of Jenny Livsey’s Nurse Ratched is the polar opposite  of the all-coy awkwardness of Francesca Goodridge’s Nurse Flynn. Of course, it’s essential for the success of the play to have a damn fine McMurphy and in Richard Nichols you get exactly that, a damn fine McMurphy. His beautifully-lit late night scenes with Andy Cresswell’s Chief, all heft, height and gravitas, are particularly good in a show bursting with highlights and characterised by fabulous movement, pacing and rhythm.

Liam Tobin’s flamboyantly professorial Harding, Dion Davies’ superbly needy Cheswick and director Peter Doran’s brilliant gnarly old grouch Scanlon are at the centre of many of the laugh-out-loud set pieces, and Doran’s simple addition of a motorised wheelchair for his character, in perhaps his last acting role, is inspired.

But Rhodri Sion’s nimble and mischievous Martini and Dave Ainsworth’s fantastic Ruckly, squinting and feverish, provide an unselfish platform for others to shine as does Miriam O’Brien in her brief, but explosive appearances on set as Candy Starr. And newcomer Will Taylor’s performance as the doe-eyed and fragile Billy Bibbit is a constant pleasure, always impressive.

Forget the film. Forget other versions of the play. Forget the novel (well, no, don’t forget the novel). This is the definitive production, the definitive performance of ‘Cuckoo’s Nest, not on Broadway, not in the West End, but out on the west Wales coast there. ‘Fair makes the ole brain reel.’

A fabulous piece of work. A theatrical masterpiece. Bull goose brilliant.

words TIM BARRETT

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