One can never accuse Peterborough Mask Theatre of opting for the popular or easy choices over the most challenging and worthy of plays…and Dale Wasserman’s adaptation of Ken Kesey’s classic novel is no exception.
Emma Goldberg’s thoughtful and insightful production deserved a much larger first night audience at the Key Theatre main house on Wednesday evening ( November 4th) although those who saw it were treated to a well acted piece of pathos, humour and, ultimately, tragedy.
Although there were several moments when I thought that the more claustrophobic setting of the Key Studio might have been a more suitable setting, all credit must go to Mask for reintroducing Amateur Dramatic plays to the larger auditorium.
From the first appearance of the cast, the men in their matching T~shirts and ‘sweatpants’ shuffling in their drug induced stupors with the idiosyncrasies of their conditions laid bare, we were drawn into a bleak hopeless world to which the arrival of Randall P McMurphy brings temporary respite and humour and hope. One of the best performances, that of Alex Tyler as Chief Bromden, sets the scene for us with his unreliable narrator’s take on this alien world. I appreciated the fine acting of Jonni Hilton as Dale Harding, Matt Smith as Charles Cheswick, Peter Crerar as Frank Scanlon, Peter Unwin as Anthony Martini , Adam Bridges as Ruckly and Rich Baker as Aide Turkel. I think that it is important to acknowledge their work as a company as it is this which adds immeasurably to the play’s sense of truth.
Into this mix, arrives the anarchic soul of McMurphy who believes that he is onto a good thing and a short sentence, but he has reckoned without the menace of Nurse Ratched, a controlled, steely and subtle take on an iconic role by Suzanne Tuck, the obedient Nurse Flinn played by Saskia Davis, her robotic lackeys played convincingly by Lloyd Tinashek and Odaks Nwoke and the weak will of the seemingly kindly Dr Spivey, beautifully underplayed by Carl Perkins.
I loved the sense of period and authenticity and performance energy brought to the play by the superbly voiced portrayals of Candy and Sandy by Linda Marseglia and Cheryl Livingstone.( Here the inspired costuming of Jill Ward and Catherine Lee came into its own.) I also valued the sense of innocence and vulnerability identified with by the audience that Charlie Alexander as Billy Bibbitt brought to his stammering role.
But of course, the night belonged to the breath of fresh air, kindliness, witty repartee and revolution that was Luke Day’s McMurphy. Largely eschewing Jack Nicholson’s classic ‘turn’, he brought humanity and warmth to a role which I have seen played for laughs or which has proved unlikeable. Intensely physical and focused in his approach, Luke produced the biggest laughs and the greatest sadness in a roller coaster of an evening. A splendid characterisation.
This was a terrific interpretation of a mainstay of twentieth century literature.
All credit to Emma the director, Becky her assistant and the marvellous company of Mask for a well~ judged, poignant rendition of a play worth performing by a group who proved yet again that they can take on the most difficult of plays whilst entertaining, informing and moving an audience.
By Sandra Samwell