One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest has been a big success in the West End in recent years with two productions led by Hollywood star Christian Slater. But Slater would be a little out of place in this new adaptation by street dance company Bounce, Insane In The Brain, which gives a hip hop spin (quite literally) to Ken Kesey’s tale of power and madness on a psychiatric ward. Matthew Amer was in the first night audience at the Peacock.
A street dance version of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest; it sounds like a crazy idea. But in the hands of street dance veterans Bounce it makes total sense. While detailed characterisation suffers after the one spoken scene introducing each of the characters, the spirit of the piece flows through the eclectic musical score and the choreography.
Each of the patients has their own condition which is expressed in their movements. Dale Harding’s Obsessive Compulsive tendencies see him using repetitive actions, Martini’s naïve childishness is reflected in exuberant, over-active movements and the silent Chief Bromden becomes wheelchair bound; unable to communicate through dance instead of words.
Guest dancer Teneisha Bonner, playing Nurse Ratched, the controlling power of the ward, performs martial arts-inspired moves with a cruel straight face throughout the show, which is a clever trick when it is obvious the whole cast loves every minute of this high-octane, visually spectacular performance.
The production is packed with unruly, raucous humour that is only fitting for RP McMurphy. The sexually repressed Billy Bibbit dreams of a blow-up doll dancing to the music of Lionel Ritchie, Martini has a dream sequence – memorable for its use of brightly coloured lycra – inspired by Flashdance and Fame, and the patients’ escape from the ward involves the unsuspecting audience and a dance battle set in a silent movie.
There is cleverness too in the score. Ratched’s domination of the patients is expressed through repetitive movements to a ballet score, while McMurphy’s freeing of his fellow inmates’ personalities comes in a sequence using Cypress Hill’s Insane In The Brain and Charles Wright’s Express Yourself.
The pent up anger and frustration seem perfectly matched to the sharp athletic movements of street dance, combining to produce incredible scenes. Electroshock therapy sees three patients harnessed on a near-vertical rake, their erratic movements a reflection of the pain. It is torturous yet exhilarating. A scene of broken sleep patterns uses light to highlight the dancers for a split second mid-action to spectacular effect.
Yet for all the chest-rumbling bass lines, the energetic moves and the show-stopping set pieces, the emotion sucker punch at the end of the story is felt as acutely as ever.
Insane In The Brain plays at the Peacock until 16 March.