One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest

Date 7th March 2024
Society Bebington Dramatic Society
Venue Gladstone Theatre
Type of Production Play
Director James Kay
Lights David Oliver. Tim Downes
Sound Mike Jones
Producer James Kay
Written By Ken Kesey .Dale Wasserman


Author: Joanne Rymer

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Bebington Dramatic Society


One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a play based on Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel of the same name, adaptation by Dale Wasserman. When researching this play, I was fascinated to uncover that the 1963/64 version of the Broadway production starred Kirk Douglas as Randle Patrick McMurphy. Kirk Douglas retained the rights to make a film version for over a decade, but was unable to find a studio willing to make it with him. Eventually, he gave the rights to his son Michael who succeeded in getting the film produced. At that time, Kirk Douglas was deemed too old for the role of McMurphy, and the role was given to Jack Nicholson, the rest as they say is history.

When Randle Patrick McMurphy (Richard Dodd) gets himself transferred for evaluation from a prison farm to a mental institution, he assumes it will be a less restrictive environment, however the martinet Nurse Ratched (Charlotte Cummings) has very different ideas. Ratched runs the psychiatric ward with an iron fist, keeping her patients subdued through abuse, medication and sessions of electroconvulsive therapy. The battle of wills between the rebellious McMurphy and the inflexible Ratched soon affects the lives of the patients and staff in the ward, as they are caught in the tug of war between these two strong willed characters.

Directed by James Kay this is a compelling and intense play about society, mental health and finding friendship in the most unlikely of places. The entirety of the play takes place in the mental institute’s day room. The utilitarian set, comprised the central nurse’s office with full window, plain walls, a table surrounded by stacking chairs (their constant movement was distracting). It was simple but useful as it provided the perfect landscape for action to be played out (ball-games card games, group sessions).  The costume crew did a fine job, the casual joggers and t-shirts perfect for the contolled enviroment. Lighting guru’s David Oliver and Tim Downes did a fine job, highlighting the dramatic moments within the play. The spotlight on Chief Bromden as his narration made the audience really feel as if they were given an insight into his inner thoughts. The timely use of the flashing blue lighting when McMurphy underwent electro-therapy was as much a shock to the audience as it was to McMurphy, adding to the tension.

Simon Garland plays Chief Bromden, a long-term patient in Nurse Ratched’s psychiatric ward,a half-Native American believed to be deaf and dumb, he overhears all the secrets on the ward and is barely noticed by anyone despite his stature. The aides (Michael Webster, John Reynolds, Roger Hesketh) mock him for being a pushover; even though he is over six feet tall, he sweeps the hallways for them, nicknaming him “Chief Broom.” The ward Nurse Flinn (Katie Marrin) is aware they tease him and is sympathetic to him. As the narrator Chief brings much needed moments of peace to the play, a sensitive performance.

McMurpy’s (Richard Dodd) arrival on the ward is loud, energetic and very intense.  His powerful physical portrayal of this emotionally complicated character was outstanding. The intensity was overwhelming, a variation of ‘light and shade’ would have added a different dimension to the character. However, the performance by Richard was exceptional, his relationship with Chief was sensitively delivered, their rendition of the rhyme ‘One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ was incredibly moving. Which paved the way for Chief to be the cuckoo who actually fled the nest.

McMurphy's disruptive personality causes unrest within the inmates: Dale Harding (Kevin Fishwick), the intelligent, de-facto leader of the group, his fidgety, edgy mannerisms really added to this vunerable character. The spoof wedding ceremony for Candy and Billy was superb, a splendid performance from this talented actor.  Billy Bibbit (Liam Carr) gave a compelling performance as the young man with a severe speech impediment and fear issues, especially of his domineering mother. A situation Ratched ruthlessly exploited. Loudmouthed and opinionated Charles Cheswick (Keith Hill), Frank Scanlon (Mike Sanders) who is obsessed with explosives, Martini (Brian Sumner), who has severe hallucinations and Ruckley (Adrian Davies), a chronic patient in a mostly vegetative state who spends his days pretending to be crucified on the wall. The resident doctor Spivey (Anna Shaw) who contibutes at the group meeting takes a liking to the cheeky McMurphy, supporting his idea that the men may watch  the Super Bowl on the day TV, much to the annoyance of Ratched.  McMurphy makes it his mission to flout Ratched's regime of rules and punishment and to liberate the other patients from her grip.

 Nurse Ratched (Charlotte Cummings) possesses a steely smile armed with a hard veneer exterior, she enforces her rigid rules, assuring the residents that the rules are for their own good. Nurse Ratched truly believes her discipline is therapeutic, she relishes exercising control over them. Charlotte is a formidable Ratched, maintains a tight grip on the role, charging every encounter with indomitable force. This energy ramps up even more in her scenes with McMurphy, making their final confrontation explosive.

Everything comes to a head when McMurphy bribes an orderly and throws an illicit party on the ward, inviting two prostitutes Candy (Alex Wharton) and Sandra (Natalie Wright) He arranges his good friend Candy to seduce Billy. Alex gave a terrific performance as the feisty Candy; her seduction of Billy was very moving.  The interception of Ratched, threatening to inform Billy’s mother results in tragedy, Billy slits his throat igniting a violent altercation between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched as he attempts to strangle her.

The final moments of the story are chilling and tragic, Ratched delivers her final revenge. McMurphy receives an entirely unnecessary lobotomy, rendering him a vegetable, but the effects his short time on the ward had on the other patients can never be undone.

Chief discovers his friend frees his spirit by smothering him with a pillow. Then flies the nest.


There are solid performances from the entire cast, ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ is considered a ‘cult’ story, the figure of the multi-Oscar winning Jack Nicholson looms large above the McMurphy character. BDS are to be praised for choosing what is known to be a challenging script. Congratulations on a fine production.




Joanne Rymer


District 4