LEGENDARY author Ken Kesey wrote the novel in 1962, and the 1975 film went on to win Oscars for best lead actor (Jack Nicholson in a career-defining role as protagonist Randle P. McMurphy), lead actress, picture, director and screenplay.
It therefore takes a brave bunch to take such illustrious material to the stage, and it’s New Zealand actor Andrew Lowe’s task to make the risk-taking, anti-authoritarian McMurphy come alive in Brisbane Arts Theatre’s latest production.
“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was just too irresistible for me to pass up,” Lowe says. “The hard part is trying to get away from the film and putting your own ideas in. People have their own perception of how they think it will be played. I feel [the play] is very different to the film, but then the film was very different to the novel. In the novel, they’re very much normal people that have been deemed mentally unfit for society, whereas in the film I feel they really played up the mental illness part more; not caricatures, but getting into comedy. Ours is still in development, and we’re going down the entertainment route as well, but I think it’s got to be that way for an audience to be engaged by it.”
The story follows McMurphy as he is sent to a mental institution to await sentencing by a criminal court. At first he sees his new surroundings as a place in which to escape doing jail time, although he soon begins to revolt and rally his fellow patients against the overbearing and subtly cruel Nurse Ratched, and the two become locked in a battle of wills that only one can survive.
“I think the play has some great points in it,” Lowe says. “The mental illness side still applies today; the way we treat mental illness. In the film it’s about McMurphy rising up against Nurse Ratched and promoting individualism and each person’s own traits as unique and part of human nature, whereas Nurse Ratched tries to make them conform. It’s a powerful piece because we need to embrace people’s individual traits in society and understand who they are and to let them be who they want to be. I think these days we have pills for everything that are supposed to tackle and solve everything, and this play shows that that’s not the way to do things necessarily – McMurphy is a great advocate of that.”
Lowe, who got into acting in Australia after studying law and accounting for five years in his native New Zealand, has diverse industry experience and sees Brisbane Arts Theatre as a vital part of the theatre and arts scene in Brisbane.
“I’ve done about 20 short films and I was behind the scenes on Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken,” he says. “I was the lead actor’s stand-in. I spent four months working with [Jolie], and it was fantastic to see how it all comes together and what it takes. It was a great experience; I just want a part of it now [laughs]. I’ve just shot a Tropfest film too; it ends up as a tragedy and I decided to break the fourth wall a lot on that as well – that Malcolm In The Middle sort of thing. This is my fourth show at Brisbane Arts Theatre. I’ve done Picnic at Hanging Rock, Frankenstein and A New Way To Pay Old Debts. Someone told me it was the oldest theatre in Brisbane, and that just speaks for itself if you ask me. There’s obviously a lot of history there and a lot of the origins of theatre in Brisbane. Of course, it’s a community-based theatre, so it’s great as an outlet for people who just want to get up there and do it, have a go and have some fun.”
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST RUNS FROM OCT 4 TO NOV 1.