One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest – Edinburgh Festival

The Scottish tabloids were full of Christian Slater’s 35th birthday. Big Daddy O’s lap dancing club had thrown him out for ‘swearing’. ‘Hellraiser’ Slater wasn’t about to apologise, suggesting Trainspotting also included the odd profanity. Perhaps this explained the huge queue outside the Assembly Rooms.

For tabloid tittle-tattle he may be barrel scraping, but as a sane man in a mad world, he was excellent. As much Jack Nicholson (whom he physically resembles) as RP McMurphy, Slater came across as an actor approaching middle age and angry at the thought of it.

Nurse Ratched was less of a success. Part of the delight of the story is the ambiguity of her motivation. Frances Barber plays her too straight, too rigid. The audience took an instant dislike and uneasy empathy is everything that makes her fascinating. She didn’t earn it here.

Mackenzie Crook has arguably the hardest role. Billy is a difficult character to get right. The stutter has to be spot on or it sounds trite. And he is the most typecast of the actors. He seemed to struggle at first, but shined in more structured scenes. Physically he looks the part. No make-up required.

The other key role is The Chief. The play loses a little by employing The Chief to push the narrative along, adding between-scene monologues of tribal reflections “Big waterfall, Indian land.” When McMurphy penetrates his deaf and dumb ‘wall’, it’s not the plot pivot of the original and less of a revelation.

At one point Nurse Ratched rails against McMurphy’s lifestyle, “all your women and drink and immorality.” He must have been tempted to wink but played a straight bat, firmly in the role of McMurphy, not Christian Slater. He’s looking good for 35 and I’ve never really considered it before, but he can act too.