Katy Tuxford’s set and Chris Davey’s lighting give a fine performance, holding our attention even before the cast step on stage. A bleeping control console in a day room pulses with red lights while overhead forks of electricity crackle menacingly.
Here is a state mental hospital where the insane are systematically subdued and any disruptive surge of individuality can be permanently counterpointed with the dreaded psychosurgery.
Walking into this world of medicated insanity is McMurphy: part saviour, part conman. As the catalyst for confronting the status quo and empowering intimidated patients, Shane Richie gives a memorable performance, both hilarious and poignant.
Richie bestows McMurphy with mesmeric irrepressibility, always the focal point with his wise-cracking, calculatingly disruptive ebullience. He delights in bouts of anarchy and rousing the spirits of his down-trodden and delusional fellow patients. But his disregard for authority proves dangerous in an enclosed environment where those in control hold all the ace cards.
As his nemesis Nurse Ratched, Sophie Ward delivers a serenely chilling performance, manipulating and bending patients to her will. Autocratic, with little opposition from the benign Dr Spivey (Malcolm Ridley), her armoury of pills, punishments and dark threats are employed under the guise of helping patients.
However some will never get better, like Ruckly (Alan Douglas) who is little more than a walking vegetable. Chief Bromden (Brendan Dempsey) uses catatonia to beat the system while others will never escape it.
The cast of 15 draw great riches from each role, providing a thought provoking take on how we deal with mental illness and creating a brilliant piece of transfixing theatre.