One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Play | Sport For Jove

Director's Notes

Ken Kesey's metaphor for modern America is that of the mental hospital. In this case a womb-like institution able to retard development and hamper spiritual, mental and emotional growth. The enormous mother figure who runs the hospital is Nurse Ratched-The Big Nurse, a “high raking official for the Combine” that seemingly has the power to arrest the forces of nature.

Into Nurse Ratched’s nest drops the wild goose force of nature, Randle Patrick McMurphy. As his initials (R.P.M) suggest, McMurphy is a whirlwind of existence; a moving target whose laugh hovers around him the way a sound hovers around a big bell. His is the first laugh to be heard on the ward for years.

When McMurphy first swaggers in to the day room, the Aides find it impossible to get him to hold still long enough to hit the target for a wash. His first words, “ Buddy you are so wrong. I don’t have to do this, and I don’t have to do that…” speak to his history of resisting anything or anybody that removes a man’s freedom. The songs he chooses to sing "The Roving Gambler" and "The Wagoner's Lad," are songs in which the protagonist is a wanderer who is hard to pin down, even when a good woman does her best.

It’s in the ward that McMurphy, who has always kept himself free of what Chief Bromden calls the "Combine" by "batting around from one place to another," must find a way to translate his free wheeling, brawling physicality into a deeper understanding of himself. Confinement within the ward eventually means that he must substitute an evolution in character for his customary speed of mouth and foot.

From Nurse Ratched’s point of view, evolution of character can happen mechanically as well as organically. Her weapons are the mechanisms of Electro Shock Therapy or lobotomy. In either case her intention is to create a smoothly shaped part to fit the social machine and constitute a successful Dismissal.

McMurphy's evolution is an organic process in which nothing of what he is becomes totally lost or dehumanised. The qualities that he brings onto the ward are still with him when he departs to his lobotomy, but many of them have developed and changed almost beyond recognition.

Essentially, the McMurphy who enters the ward is a frontier hero and like all successful  frontiersmen, those dwellers on the outside edges of civilisation, McMurphy is a good fighter.

Closely allied to McMurphy’s fighting skill is his ability to use his considerable energy to subdue nature to useful ends. Kesey makes him a logger, a “bull goose catskinner for every gyppo logging operation in the Northwest.”

McMurphy is also associated with that other hardworking figure of American culture, the cowboy. As soon as he arrives on the Ward he issues the classic challenge: "you tell Bull Goose Looney Harding  that R. P. McMurphy is waiting to see him and that this hospital ain't big enough for the two of us.”    

Another archetypal American hero is the gambler, the hustler, the trickster and McMurphy is one of the finest. “My name is McMurphy, buddies, R. P. McMurphy, and I'm a gambling fool”. It’s true. He will bet on anything. He is so good a hustler that he even warns his victims before he fleeces them.

The wager that McMurphy makes concerning Nurse Ratched quickly becomes a struggle for the hearts, minds and genitals of the inmates of the ward. In order to win, McMurphy must come to see himself as the men see him and, harder still, he must accept the responsibility of being what they need him to be. He must become the symbol that the Oregon co-ed had in mind when she gave him his Moby Dick shorts; he must become Chief Bromden’s "giant come out of the sky to save us from the Combine…"

For a time, it seems that McMurphy can restore life to the ward wasteland without losing his own life, but as he grows more and more  aware of the greatness of the need of the emasculated men who surround him, he also becomes more aware of the cost of fulfilling that need.

So it is that McMurphy; American folk hero, demagogue to the underdog and Christ figure wins even as he loses. His values of courage, strength, manliness, pride, compassion and self-sacrifice ultimately triumph over the de-humanising values of the Combine.

He has kept moving, even when the life has been taken.

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"Hardwick’s production is tight and intense, mixing moments of exhilaration with others of penetrating compassion and remorse."
"Di Smith presents an imposing Nurse Ratched to ensure she is a strong adversary for McMurphy with a sole focus of breaking the men within her 'care'."
"...their sense of shared spirit and revelry are palpably intoxicating. "
"Dynamic and intuitive, and effortlessly captivating, it is a pleasure to watch the actor fill the stage with his [Gooley] brand of robust theatricality. "

Cast & Crew


Randle P. McMurphy
Candy Starr
Nurse Ratched
Dr. Spivey
Nurse Flinn
Aide Warren
Aide Williams
Dale Harding
Billy Bibbit


Assistant Director
Production Designer
Lighting Designer
Assistant Stage Manager
Assistant Stage Manager
Stage Manager
Sound Designer / Composer