Nursing grievances

28th April 2006 at 01:00
Timothy Ramsden sees another view of an iconic story of the 1960s

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

By Ken Kesey, adapted by Dale Wasserman

London Garrick Theatre

Tel: 0870 890 1104 0870 899 3342 (group bookings)

Neither Tamara Harvey nor co-director Terry Johnson had time to breathe when they were parachuted into the 2004 premiere of this Edinburgh London production mid-rehearsal. Now, the chance to revisit is a luxury.

Dale Wassermann's adaptation of Ken Kesey's 1962 novel about the power struggle in a mental hospital between patient Randle P McMurphy and Nurse Ratched has not dated, Harvey says.

Except with respect to one character: the long-silent Native-American Chief Bromden, who does seem a figure from the 1960s. Otherwise, "there is still the idea of the Outsider, the Loner rebelling against rules and regulations". Current issues, such as identity cards, resonate with this.

Being a pro-McMurphy inmate's account, Kesey's story is not balanced between McMurphy's anarchy and the order of Nurse Ratched. Yet the directors have looked for the darker moments in McMurphy's role, for example the way he bullies the other patients.

Similarly, they have sought out the less harsh aspect of the controlling Ratched. Unlike McMurphy, who smuggles a couple of his acquaintances into the ward, Ratched seems to have no life outside the hospital; she never responds to any question about her life elsewhere. She is like an automaton, never sleeping.

When McMurphy first arrives on the ward, she is confident. This is a typical morning for her, and at first she responds as she would to any new and troublesome patient. She has dealt with them many times before.

Yet each time she attempts a different route against McMurphy she fails.

Her attempt to undermine his status with the other patients, by telling them how he's swindled them at cards, has the opposite effect.

He is someone who is full of personality, hard to crush, despite threats such as sending him to another ward. He encourages his fellow male patients to come alive, but does not stop to think of the consequences of his actions, one of which is Billy Bibbit's death.

But her trump card is the one he did not know she possessed: the power to keep him in hospital as long as she wishes. From there on, it is all-out war to her final victory.

During this conflict Harvey hopes to keep the comedy alive as long as possible, looking particularly for the moment audiences laugh then find, a moment later, the laughter catching in their throats.

* Another production runs at Newcastle under Lyme New Vic, April 28-May 20 Tel: 01782 717962

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