Garrick Theatre, 2 Charing Cross Rd, London, WC2H 0HH
Roughly two years ago, American actor Christian Slater caught chicken pox and it looked like it could be the end for Edinburgh Festival Fringe audiences. He pulled through and gave a sensational performance as Randle Patrick McMurphy in Dale Wasserman’s 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest', which transferred to the Gielgud Theatre. Now he’s back – this time at the Garrick Theatre – looking more suited to the role than ever.
As McMurphy his genuine compassion for his fellow inmates in the mental institution is far-reaching. He treats them as individuals first and patients second. His questioning of the rules by which they are treated is justified and one shares his distaste for the spiteful Nurse Ratched. This role was originally superbly played by Francis Barber and now has an impressive Alex Kingston.
Ms Kingston clearly enjoys playing doctors and nurses – remember her as Dr Elizabeth Corday in top American television series 'ER'? As Nurse Ratched (or “Rat S**t”) she is the one who wears the trousers in this particular institute. Her frostiness comes to the fore when in a delightfully menacing, but seductive way she utters: “Medication. All the patients to the day room”.
Through Slater’s heart-rending performance as the inmate who breaks ‘ward policy’ and constantly challenges Nurse Ratched we are reminded of the barbaric rules that were operational in the psychiatric centres of the Sixties and perhaps are still in operation in some parts. Imagine electric shock therapy and you get the picture.
As well as the top-notch leading pair, the large ensemble features numerous knock-out performances especially from Brendan Dempsey, Paul Ready and Lizzie Roper.
Katy Tuxford’s set design eerily resembles a day room in a ward of a state mental hospital in the States and makes Wasserman’s script, based on the novel by Ken Kesey lifelike with patients and medics roaming freely from its doors, and group therapy taking place.
Terry Johnson’s production is alarming, but crucial viewing. Book tickets while you can.