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Brighton Fringe 2011

One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest

Tanglehead Prouctions/ Dir. Rikki Tarascas

Genre: Drama


The Happy Cell Factory, Hove, BN3 1RE


Low Down

‘When charming rogue Randle P. McMurphy serves a sentence inside a state mental institution he realises he has not taken the easy way out. He clashes with head nurse Ratched and leads the detainees in a revolt. As his antics escalate the institution decides to finally ‘fix’ him.

Tanglehead explore how authoritarian, repressive regimes rely on fear to control individuals.’


It is not often one finds them self in a place such as The Happy Cell Factory in Hove; a place dedicated to help those who are struggling to live a healthy life with classes of yoga, meditation,Qi Gong, Shiatsu, dance, singing.

I can see now see why it was a inspired venue choice by director Rikki Tarascas. The idea of seeing one of my all time favourite books/plays and films performed live in a site-specific setting was a no brainer for me when deciding what to watch this year and I was not disappointed.

It seems my choices of shows which I have seen this year so far have proved some of the best theatre I have had the pleasure of watching.

Tanglehead Productions version of Dale Wasserman’s ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest’ truly captivates and admits the audience to the facility before they have even entered the building with terrifically improvised characters.

From Nurse Beaver, to the many doctors including ‘doctors who are not doctors but, believe they are doctors’.

Holding the rails and following the red line along the floor I was a little unsure what to expect. ushered into the reception where I was given a wrist band with ‘my name’ on…Rod Stewart…lovely.

I follow the line of other bewildered and nervous audience members to where we were given blue slip-on shoe covers and given our medication.

I was involved and beginning to lose myself in this bazaar medical facility. We are shown to a studio, a long clinical looking room. chairs in two rows on either side the curable, non-curable thank the lord I was on the curable side at least I could leave if I wanted to.

In front of me sat ‘Sean Connery’ the first to spot ‘Chief’ played by Gordon Winter rocking in a chair. Soon the rest of the inmates entered instantly creating relationships with the audience, everyone of them interacting  and perfectly acted. Clearly a lot of time and attention to detail was taken when casting Dodger Phillips and his band of merry men.

Though each one of the characters presented has a interesting look, every actor bursts with energy and stage presence. The use of live musical accompaniment by Ben Kidd, Elliot Spring and Rikki Tarascas is beautifully placed.

The ominous rumble every time the wonderfully stern ‘Nurse Ratched’ played by Sarah Barfoot enters the scene. With her she brings the clinical ‘house’ lighting which washes away all sense of atmosphere created by low wall lights, the drums and sound effects of ‘Chiefs’ monologues to ‘Pupa’.

When ‘Randal Patrick McMurphy’ played by Dodger Phillips enters the room fills with energy once again, The characters burst to life revelling in the new addition to their ‘council’.

Relationships and character dynamics are explored and tested with his introduction. Breaking the norm and encouraging a sense of anarchy Dodger plays and fits ‘McMurphy’ wonderfully.

A reservation I had as I sat anticipating his entrance was, ‘I hope he doesn’t just try to emulate Jack Nicklson’s portrayal’. He did not.

Instead he brought McMurphy to life much like the other performer had done with the like of Jason Kennedy as ‘Billy’ and Xelis De Toro’s perfectly comedic ‘Martini’.

I must stress how captivating all the inmates were to watch every single one able to hold the attention of any of the audience.  At times the space was filled with such mayhem that it was impossible to give all the time needed to really appreciate the efforts the actors were making, However, it was not for nothing as it was needed and made for an exciting and believable act. During the Interval the improvisation was carried throughout, led, it seemed, by ‘Nurse Beaver’ who was hilarious, supported by a host of wonderful doctors and nurses.

Back into a different studio space for the second act, in the basement of the ‘facility’ this time. Again the audience on either side of the space creating a through way down the middle with Nurse Ratched’s medicine station at one end and the poker table at the other.

More improvisation ensued with one audience member being restrained and carried out (Believably I might add).

It was the small details like this which made the whole experience believable and I am sure I am not the only one who found their attention rapt through out the duration of the two hour experience.

I use the term ‘experience’ rather than ‘performance’ now as Tanglehead’s production is more than a group of players entertaining an audience, they ARE Scanlon, Ruckly, Harding and Cheswick to name a few.

The second act kept pace and the build up to the party was gratefully met with appreciation for Tarascas directing of the part scene itself. The party scene accompanied by the band and then a live version of ‘You don’t know me’ beautifully sung by Ellen Capron playing Sandra.

In slow motion all the characters revel in their debauchery led by McMurphy serving the drinks and Cheswick administrating the ‘medication’. This scene is so heart warming and poignant I wish I could have joined in! As this band of merry (unlikely) men celebrate the emancipation of ‘Billy’s’ virginity the whole scene was brilliant and captivating.

It is true to say Tarascas is a puppet master, a emotional engineer, able to inspire and evoke the most fantastic emotional journeys for the audience through his actors. Without the ‘party scene’ or in fact any of the above taking place, being felt or experienced the final scenes would be nothing more than actors playing the last lines out like any normal ‘play’. But this production of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest’ is not just a normal play. Not by any means.

The scenes leading to the end were believable and emotionally charged and the scream of ‘Nurse Ratched’ pierces the atmosphere and the audience is thrust into what seems like a whole other experience, like losing a friend McMurphy lays on the bed lifeless.

The experience finished with tears and a standing ovation. The performers beaming with pride and maybe a little relief take a bow on a VERY well deserved applause. It is without a doubt worthy of a residency at the Happy Cell Factory, a national tour, or if a venue could be found a run in the West End. I would love nothing more than for this experience to be a regular and well marketed experience for all.

My only disappointment was the reaction to what happens to ‘Billy’. This here was the only moment I felt (a little) let down, maybe it was the script as the acting from Sarah Barfoot and scenes to follow were faultless and as mentioned the scream is haunting. Maybe a little blood might have carried on the realism of the experience.

Each and everyone of the performers involved are exceptional and should be proud of not only themselves but the whole show. I am sure Mr Rikki Tarascas is a proud and happy man!

This should be the ‘pick of the fringe’ this year, it should be nominated for an award and I hope it is not sold out so I am able to take my friends and tell everyone I meet during the festival to buy a ticket in advance because once word gets out they might need a bigger facility.