One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a book, film, and play of incredibly dramatic proportions, addressing a number of issues surrounding mental health and oppression. It does this with poignancy, intense power and emotion. It is disappointing then, that Leeds Arts Centre completely misses the mark in their (mis)interpretation of this iconic work.
While the production itself was well executed in most technical aspects, there was an incredible lack of sensitivity to the issues raised within the play. All of Ken Kesey’s original work was demolished in one go through the trivialisation of the patients’ suffering, abusing their ailments for comic effect. This is not a comedy, and yet I felt that that was what this production was trying to be. The characters became more like stereotypes, portrayed with only one setting present on their emotion meter throughout. The emotional stakes never seemed to be raised for any of them, and because of this, I just found myself feeling bored.
What did not help the situation were the little things I noticed that seemed very unprofessional. In certain scene changes (which in themselves seemed unnecessary), two men in glaringly noticeable attire walked onto the stage to help, looking very out of place. Maybe I’m being a bit pernickety, but even student productions know to have stage-hands in all black clothing. The TV set did not work, instead having a green light inside it to represent the glow of the screen on the actors’ faces. Technically, this is rather clever, but not when the green light was in plain view the entire time. But perhaps what confused me the most was the director’s definition of “timeless”. This did not suggest that this was a story relevant to any time or location, but instead meant that props, set and costume were simply an odd mix of items from different eras that looked out of place.
While change and adaptation can be very good for some plays, it is not for One Flew. It’s frustrating that such an iconic piece has been changed and twisted in such a way, reducing the characters to mere caricatures and disregarding the key themes in the way they are meant to be represented; the concept of ‘madness’ especially is reverted back to the heavily stigmatised subject it was back then. For a piece that is often so powerful and clever, it did not deliver the hard-hitting drama I was expecting.