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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

by Dale Wasserman

"This version by Playing Up Theatre Company hits all the targets brilliantly…the whole ensemble gel superbly."
Bath Chronicle

About the play

There are three people to credit for the stage version of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.  Ken Kesey (1935 – 2001) wrote the original novel in 1962 and based it on his own experiences of working as an orderly on a psychiatric ward, as well as his experiments with hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD.  The book was a cult success and the film rights were quickly brought by Kirk Douglas.  He then commissioned screenwriter Dale Wasserman (who had worked with Douglas on the film The Vikings) to produce a stage adaptation.  With Douglas playing Randle McMurphy, the play successfully ran for over six years and introduced America to future stars like Danny Devito.

Ultimately Kirk Douglas never did find the time or the money to make the film of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest that he had always dreamed of.  Ironically it was his son, Michael, who took on the task of producing the film and, with Milos Forman as director, the film was finally made.  Unfortunately Kirk Douglas was deemed too old for the part of McMurphy and it went to Jack Nicholson, who went on to win the Oscar for Best Actor.  In fact the film took a total of five Oscars in 1975.

Dale Wasserman’s stage version is truer to the spirit of Kesey’s novel, in as much as the story is semi-narrated by Chief Bromden and viewed from his perspective.  Kesey himself claimed never to have seen Forman’s film version and whether he saw the play or not is debatable.  However, while Nicholson became famously synonymous with the film role, it is the play which truly captures the essence of that rebellious spirit which Kesey personifies in McMurphy initially, but ultimately in the other patients too.  Bromden’s escape at the end represents our own escape from the lunatic asylum that is society.  If we only dare!

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