Leaving my car in the Houguette School car park at 10:30 at night and heading off into the Guernsey lanes made for a uniquely clandestine way to start a theatrical experience, but, as I headed into the sprawling bunker that in Batterie Mirus, doubling up tonight as the Oregon State Hospital, it all felt somehow right for MTG’s production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
Even before the play began, in the makeshift concessions area and as we made our way into the intimate, equally makeshift, auditorium, the scene was being set with Nurse Ratched (Francesca Remick) greeting us ‘observers’ and issuing us with visitors passes which she made the strong point we should hold onto or we might not be allowed back out, while we could hear the sounds of the various patients coming from other rooms around the bunker.
The play itself took place in one of the larger rooms I’ve seen in a bunker in Guernsey with two rows of audience along one of the longer walls and the floor forming the stage with the whole space being used, making for a very intimate and close up experience, quad it was used excellently to make for some truly uncomfortable moments while also really putting us in the room with the characters.
Compared to the previous, similar, production of Frankenstein this felt a lot more focussed with a smaller cast and only the one setting to be represented by the room which made it, in some ways, more conventional but no less effective.
The cast here were something of a mixed bag but with each very nicely portraying their character traits from the outwardly more cynical older members (Simon De La Rue as Cheswick and Steve Molnar as Scanlon) to the more energetic and outwardly troubled younger members (Jack Ingrouille’s Martini and Chris Reeves’ Billy who shared more than a little visual similarity with a young Crispin Glover).
Along with them were Ben Munro as Ruckly using some of the same impressive physical techniques he exhibited in Frankenstein in a smaller but no less effective and at times shocking and terrifying role, Stephen Keenan as Chief Bromden who impressively transformed across the play and Dave Wheeler who portrayed Dale Harding in a fantastically effete fashion.
Even though I’d never seen or read any version of the story before there is one other character upon whom the whole thing hangs, Randle P. McMurphy, played here by Sam Hearne and of course made famous by Jack Nicholson in the 1975 film version.
As he entered the stage, a ball of frantic, manic energy and volume, I did wonder if this would be sustainable both as a performance and within the, up to that point, rather subdued context of the performance.
As it went on though it became clear that there was a lot more underneath the mania (the truth of which remained nicely ambiguous) and Hearne’s performance existed in a perfect contrast to Remick’s Ratched.
All of this served to (mostly subtley) allow a sense of tension to build and build over the play’s near three hour run time, cut across by truly comedic moments but never lost, until a final showdown between McMurphy and Ratched that was chilling and a denouement that was devastating as everyone on stage appeared to find the truth of it.
With more of a focus on character than plot this showed something different form the main cast members to their previous outings, with each having a least a few strong moments throughout, while Sam Hearne and Francesca Remick both delivered undeniable ‘tour de force’ performances with Remick’s Ratched probably coming out as the most effective, though of course without a formidable McMurphy it wouldn’t have had the same power.
Added to this the staging once again showed an inventiveness that brought something new to both Guernsey theatre and the production itself while transcending its potentially gimmicky feel.
As well as this the late night performance time brought an extra atmosphere to the whole thing making MTG’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest not just a terrific night’s entertainment but a great piece of artistic work from all involved as well.