Insane in the Brain review

Urban dance and ballet battle it out in this, an innovative and unique take on Ken Kesey’s classic novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, perhaps most notably brought to life in Milos Forman’s 1975 film, starring Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito. From the beginning, the performance has a strong visual impact, setting itself up as distinctly different from any representation of the story seen before, with stunning dance routines and some pretty death-defying stunts, while somehow managing to stay remarkably true to the story from the novel.

For those who have yet to discover the world of One Flew…, the story revolves around the patients at an Oregon state asylum, and was written from Kesey’s own experiences working in the very asylum the story is set in, in which he consumed various mind-altering drugs as part of Project MKULTRA, a controversial “chemical-interrogation” research programme carried out by the CIA, officially from the 1950s to the late 1960s (however many believed it continued long after this). It acts as a comprehensive study of the human psyche, and the institutional system itself. A new patient, Randle McMurphy, arrives at the institution feigning mental illness to escape a jail sentence, and proceeds to cause havoc in the hospital, challenging the authoritarian rule of Nurse Ratched. He forges an alliance with a presumed mute known as “The Chief” due to his Native American parentage and his ominous build, and after events which lead to the pair receiving electroshock therapy and subsequently, a soiree which ends in a timid patient committing suicide and the consequent near-fatal strangling of Nurse Ratched, McMurphy is given a lobotomy and assumes a vegetative state. The Chief, convinced that if the other patients see McMurphy in this state, it may demoralise them (McMurphy’s influence had boosted many of the other patients’ assertiveness), smothers Randle with a pillow, and escapes to freedom amongst his Native American kinsmen.

On a technical level, the show was magnificent. The dancing was incredible, with each cast member exuding an enthusiastic glow (none more so than Bianca Fernstrom, who played Miss Martini, a gender-swapped version of Danny DeVito’s role in the film). And with an eclectic music selection including such diverse acts as System of a Down, Lionel Richie, Dizzee Rascal, Peace Orchestra and Cypress Hill, after whose crossover hit single the show is named after. Lionel Ritchie even makes an appearance, but only to accommodate some comic relief (as unlikely as this sounds).

On a personal level, I feel a great sense of disappointment in the show. Bounce, as a contemporary dance company, had the potential to address the issues Kesey confronted in the novel, namely the coercion and subtle manipulations of many of the different institutions set up for the post-war consumerist world, and the establishment in general. It seems the company neglected narrative for more spectacular set-pieces, and I’m unsure whether viewers unfamiliar to the story or Kesey’s themes of subtle oppression and individual freedom, would have necessarily picked up on these. This is a shame, as I feel Bounce have the power to reach out to younger audiences with the dance element, whereas, especially in today’s increasingly media-orientated society, they might not pick up the novel and read it.

This aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the show, and the small workshop which preceded the main performance was an entertaining affair, the swarm of children lapping it up. Interestingly, the audience seemed to include a multitude of younger folk, which I found surprising due to the show’s parental advisory notice – in addition to a sex scene which can  be best described as “near to the bone”, the show incorporates some explicit language, both in the soundtrack and within the dialogue itself, perhaps most memorably when the words “Fuck Off” are displayed on a projector screen during one scene in which the patients are taken to the cinema by the vivacious and troublesome McMurphy (a slight departure from the original story).

Overall, despite my disappointment at the missed opportunity to reach out to children with Kesey’s original message, the show was an extremely enjoyable performance, and is certainly an entertaining night out.

David Feeney


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