Ruby Slipper @ One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

Live theatre. There’s nothing quite like it to really freak you out. Will it involve embarrassing improv? Will it be bad community theatre? Will it involve uncomfortable nudity from acquaintances and/or Reg Livermore or Rhonda Burchmore? All my worries were immediately put at ease, as Human Sacrifice Theatre’s moving rendition of ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ at Chapel off Chapel was a wonderfully executed piece of gritty drama. Here’s the down low from Ruby Slipper’s night at the theatre.

In desert flower Arabella Ramsay on a balmy summer night on Chapel Street.

We were chuffed to be invited to the opening night of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ by Fame PR. I hadn’t seen the film since late high school (which is probably around the same time I read the book). I did know that seeing ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ wouldn’t exactly be a gaggle of giggles. It’s some heavy shit, yo. We’re talking themes of mental ill-health, helplessness and hopelessness, medicalised entrapment and a commentary on the worst 1970’s heavily experimental psychiatry project. The HST (Human Sacrifice Theatre) team went all out – upon entering the theatre you’re immediately hit by a nauseating whiff of Dettol. The simple stage is effective, with an enclosed nurses station, institutional furniture and bare hospital surrounds. Having gone on a school camp to the then-only-recently-defunct Beechworth Asylum (AKA Mayday Hills Lunatic Aslyum, now a La Trobe University conference centre – I kid you not) in 1999, the sets really did evoke that scary banality of the mental institution wards.

HST really made me think differently about theatre. Having being a veteran of clumsy high school productions of Chekhov and community theatre versions of Pippin and Hair, I was worried that this would be a clunky version of a difficult play. I hang my head in chardonnay socialist shame and say to you that THIS WAS IN EVERY SENSE A PROFESSIONAL PRODUCTION! The clever take on Chief Bromden (often represented as an American Indian, but in this interpretation re-established as an indigenous person disconnected from his land) and use of voiceovers was immediately haunting. The stand-out performances of the evening came from Mark Diaco (Randle P. McMurphy), Natalia Novikova (Nurse Ratched), Stan Yarramunua (Chief Bromden) and Colin MacPherson (Dale Harding). Although a difficult play ( I won’t ‘spoil’ it for you if you’ve not seen the movie/read the book/viewed the play yet ), there were moments of humour and light in the first act. To book your tickets to see ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ click here. The season runs until the 11th of December, so there’s still time to go and support this energetic production.

Wonderful to bump into some familiar faces too! L-R: Mason, Thom Wilton of Couturing and Sofie Camili of Fame PR.

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5 thoughts

  1. Sounds like a very impresssive production: difficult to take so much intensity and complexity and succcessfully compress into a lucid short production. Good to see a positive review of local theatre.

    • Before “reviewing” this play, or seeing it- people should at least get their FACTS straight. This is not a representation of anything that was going on in psychiatric care in the 1970’s. It is more representative of something that “might” have gone on in an asylum somewhere much earlier that century.

      This book, film and play is entirely mythological and really has NOTHING whatsoever to do with mental illness. The characters are broad based stereo-types/cartoons who don’t actually appear to have the real symptoms of specific psychiatric illnesses, and as such, like American Pycho, and other books written about aspects of American culture, it is SUPPOSED TO BE MYTHOLOGICAL.

      When one attempts to state that One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest has ANYTHING to do with mental illness, or the medical treatment of it, one takes mental health, and all it has achieved, back into the dark ages…

      Fact 1. Lobotomy’s were not used in psychiatric hospitals in the 1970’s ANYWHERE.
      Fact 2. Nurses were NOT EVER the people who made decisions to administer, or not administer shock treatment to patients- It is completely fancifcal to suggest that any nurse would have such power over a doctor. If this were “real” the psychiatrist and nurse Ratched would be rrskling not only their licenses to practise, but also a severe and prolonged jail sentence.

      What One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest is really about it this: A man convicted of statutory rape- ie: The rape of a child- who says he didn’t know she was under age at the time, but thinks it’s funny anyway… it’s about men who “brag” about being in a psychiatric ward for “rape”- as it’s not only the central who uses rape as a joke… it’s about using powerless women (ie: prostitues) as cartoon characters, with no real pain of their own, who – like the ‘girls’ on the card pack- are merely there for the amusement of men, as well as their “sexual” therapy, without one question being raised about the actual vulnerability of women. It is blaming, in particular ONE ‘evil’ woman (ie: Nurse Ratched) for everyone’s misery, and one’s ‘mother’ (as in Billy’s case) – and by turns each man feels “castrated” by some “woman”, blames women, never looks at any issues to do with their own behaviour, the patriarchal nature of institutions themselves, and it’s basically OUT OF DATE, IRRELEVENT AND DEEPLY OFFENSIVE TO WOMEN AND THE MENTALLY ILL.

      Now, if you want to go for a laugh, then fine… but take it as a comic = not as a true representation of anything other than what it is. No one would permit a play to go on in Melbourne in 2011 that openly drew upon the hatred of race, minority groups, or any group of people who have suffered powerflessness as a group throughout many periods in history.

      it might have been ‘forgivable” in the `070’s (just as white actors painting their faces black was “once” forgivable, however this play is not here today to say ANYTHING about anything relevent or real in today’s troubled world, and merely exists to perpetuate myths and no doubt as a tool for some group of actors who want to get noticed, regardless…

      • G’day Sarah,
        Thankyou for your really robust arguments about the problems of representing mental illness, psychiatry and women in ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’. I hope that other readers also join in this discussion, which is a cracker. Do you think that the play should be banned, or merely looked upon as a ‘historic piece’, a vignette? I’d say it ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ is taken as a ‘historic piece’, rather than something current and acceptable. Do you think this play is more or less offensive than representations of mental illness in current media? Do you think that any group who choose to present this play should be merely acknowledged as try-hards attempting to garner attention, or do you make room for artistic merit in the interpretation of the work?
        What do you think of representations of asylums in classic novels such as ‘The Master and Margarita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov?
        Thanks for starting a real discussion!

  2. In response to Sarah Wiseman – It is often wise pardon the pun to wiseman, to actually look at the facts prior to embarking on a rant…The movie, hence, the play are based on a book… A book which was written by Ken Kesey in 1962 and thus articulates the ongoings of the time in which it was written and the years prior, to be true. Regardless of whether you sympathise with the story being told or you are offended by an artistic license afforded by the director, it is in fact a story and has never claimed to be a minute by minute account of life in a sanitarium. You are entitled your opinions, as is everyone but in future at least voice them in a less opinionated and more accurate manner.

    • Thank you juju for continuing this robust discussion, however the fact is that barbarik use of shock treatment, without a general anaesthetic and without the persons consent stopped occuring in American hospitals in the 19400s. I am afraid that whether you wish to believe so or not, I do know a lot about this area and its history. The reason I mentionaled the 70’s is that this was the era the critic here had mentioned. So whether it’s the 70’s or 60’s is really irrelevant. The fact is that it barbaric shock treatments had not been used in either the 70s )R the 60s. Are you implying that as KenKesey wrote the book in 1962, and that it related to years prior, that he meant for those you to be SOOOO prior as to mean the `1930s or 1940s. It is clearly not of either of these eras and so the play is historically innacurate. I don’t mind that, however, as i see the mental hospital as a metaphor of the power that state has over individualism, and as a symbol of the oppresive forces of many institutions and of the American government. I do, however, believe that yes- this is very much a play about Amerca. It doesn’t translate to another culture. The orderlys make no sense unless they are black, and the Native American Indian cultlure really has nothing in common with the our Koori culture, other than the fact that both are indigenous people=–WIth very separate traditions, sets of beliefs- they derive very different meaning from the land itsself. The Australian Aboriginee is much much older culture than the American Indian one, It is actually a stone age culture. American Indians are very different. I find that part a llitte insulting. to both groups- It’s a bit like saying Oh any black person can identify with this. Not so. I ttake my hat off to the company for doing the plau- to any company that is independent- for doing any play. We need risk taking companies. But you do take a big risk when you put yourself up against an iconic film with a role that was made for Jack Nicholson. Youl will be comprared., and you may lose out in the comparison.l What I meant to say was that I think it would have been better for Human Sacrifice to either do One Flew OVer the Cuckoos Nest in its time and period, OR find another play that is more relevant to Australia. To try to do both things with this particular play,. just makes none of it worrk..It simply dilutes any of the power the play had because you don’t really know what it is any more. It doesn’t relate to now, and it is not Australian, It does not say anything about mental health services in AUstralia now, and so I return to the notion that the asylum is a metaphor. But it is a metaphor for AMERICAN society and that society of control is justaposed with the AMerican Indian culture as a way of noticing the contrants and pain they can cause; To set it in Australia – or in no particular land- makes no sense of the play. And yes, I do have a sense that perhaps the play was chosen because people would come as it is well known. There’s nothing wrong with that at all… Lots of companys chose plays for this reason. I thought it might also have been chosen for some of the actors do be able to play certain roles. – setting oneself to be compared with Jack Nicholson is either brave or a touch naive, And aside from my issues with the play, of course I don’t think it should be banned. All I am syain is that it should be understood for what it is. It’s not a ward where an evil woman rules alone. It’s ful,l of men who see younger women as things you fuck, mothers as demons, and women in positions of power as ball breakers. The men are certainly not simple little victims. From what they say, and their attitude to women, they are predators of some kind themselves… It should be discussed, not banned, and ofcourse, everyone is entirled to their opinion.

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