At a time when bankers and brokers are pilloried in the media for turning the economy into a gibbering basket-case, the idea that a bunch of amateur thespians from the Stock Exchange should get together to perform the inmates-take-over-the-asylum piece ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ is so delicious that it’s a must-see.
The multiple layers of irony positively invite you to make up your own jokes, which is just as well since the script by Dale Wasserman, written thirteen years before the movie is flatter and flabbier than the Jack Nicholson cracker.
Amateur Dramatics in central London is an invidious occupation: there’s so much brilliant professional fringe theatre available for a tenner, that amateurs have to work twice as hard to gain their audiences. But when amateur groups are as good as SEDOS, the lines are blurred and there’s nothing in this production to suggest it’s any the less: production values, inventive lighting and sound, original music, and careful casting are entirely professional in their approach.
Director Rebecca Smith deliberately slants the production to concentrate on the inmates, even bringing in a consultant psychiatrist to help research the characters and most of these are meticulously observed cameos, with Darren Hannant specially strong as the rictus-wearing indecisive Cheswick, and Ben Hale as the tenderly vulnerable Billy Bibbett.
There’s a slight lack of pace which could pick up during the run, although it may be deliberate as in the measured delivery of Lisa Jedan’s coolly-surfaced Nurse Ratched. The ‘star turn’ should be the rambunctious prison-transferee R P McMurphy as immortalised by Nicholson, and more recently by Christian Slater in the sparky 2004 production at the Gielgud. In those shoes, Liam Byrne has a tough task to make RP an explosive mix of delightful and dangerous, and it’s not quite a bullseye. The fault’s more in the dated writing than the intensity of his performance and the wise-cracks don’t seem so sharp any more.
Finally, a plea to the otherwise wonderful Bridewell, and fringe theatres across London to invest in a couple of fifty-quid silent ceiling fans to stop the audience melting on our rare tropical evenings.
Photo by Nick Chronnell