Review of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ by Fidelma Collins

Review of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ performed by Clonmel Theatre Guild at the White Memorial Theatre in May 2019

Clonmel Theatre Guild recently celebrated 50 years of dramatic performance in the town of Clonmel. The Guild is a drama off-shoot from St. Mary’s Choral Society and was formed on February 23rd 1969 at a meeting in Hearn’s Hotel. To celebrate this milestone, the Guild chose the well- known play ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ by Dale Wasserman, an American comedy-drama located in a mental institution in the 1960s.

The story focuses on the convicted criminal Randle Patrick McMurphy who decides to be committed to a psychiatric hospital to avoid a prison sentence. Once incarcerated in the institution, he finds himself in constant conflict with one of the managers of the hospital – the infamous Nurse Ratched. The lives of the patients and staff in the ward are forever changed as they are caught in the tug of war between these two strong willed characters.

Director, Anne Williamson excelled with this production. It is a very challenging and disturbing play exposing the state-sanctioned tyrannies of the American psychiatric system in the 1960s including issues such as electroconvulsive therapy and brain lobotomies. It is a delicate balancing act to capture the essence of such a dark subject and at the same time to entertain. All of the cast members were well chosen and delivered on their parts. They even managed to bring light relief and humour at times. The American accents were realistic and the use of appropriate country songs and other musical interludes brought colour and punctuated the move from one scene to another.

As narrator, Dermot McDermott was very convincing as Indian Chief Bromden. His transitions from strong and silent to lengthy monologues were enjoyable. Pat Egan was an energetic, larger than life Randle P. McMurphy and stole the show. His nemesis, Nurse Ratched played superbly by Jacqui Aherne-Slater successfully captured the essence of this seemingly caring woman who behind it all was quite evil. Tom Callery was convincing as the inadequate husband Harding, and so was Barry Tobin who trembled and stammered poignantly as the shy virgin Billy Bibbit. Jim Malone in his portrayal of Scanlon was funny and realistic. His interaction between the other inmates in the hospital such as the twitchy Cheswick well played by Edmond Ryan, the innocent Martini well played by Eugene O’Meara and the lobotomized Ruckley well played by Gerry Dorney set the scene in the first act. We watched as these seemingly docile and compliant patients were exposed to the subversive thinking of the newcomer, Randle McMurphy.

The second act saw an escalation of the power struggle between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy. The ‘monotone’ of the ward was broken by the introduction of Candy Starr so colourfully played by Blathnaid Moore and Sandra who was very humorously played by Janet McEntee, in her debut role. There was card playing, a basketball match, a drunken party with prostitutes and then all hell broke loose. It didn’t end well for Billy Bibbitt or McMurphy. Ratched rounded on the ward, quashing the rebellion and McMurphy. Other strong performances came from Pat Dunne as Aide Warren, John Leahy as Aide Williams, Adele Powell as Nurse Flynn and Michael Hennessy as the congenial Dr. Spivey.

The set was very convincing. It had an eerily clinical sparseness, just tables, chairs and a cleverly constructed glass fronted nurse’s station. Overall, there was much to enjoy in this Cuckoo’s Nest, the pacing, the energy of McMurphy, the coldness of Nurse Ratchet, the humour and the horrific ending where Ratched stood over the lobotomized McMurphy as he lay on a stretcher. It was a production with scenes that lingered in the mind long afterwards. Congratulations to all involved especially Anne Williamson for weaving it all together with such brilliance.

Clonmel Theatre Guild performs at least two major productions annually. The next production will our annual Dinner Theatre which will take place from December 3rd-6th in Raheen House. Open readings will take place in September and everyone is welcome to come along. If you wish to be part of the autumn / winter production either as an actor or help out in other ways please contact Janet McEntee (Secretary) on 089 2025124 and follow us on Facebook and visit our website

Fidelma Collins

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