Brighton Fringe: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Interview with Tanglehead Productions

PUBLISHED: 14:24 28 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:16 20 February 2013

Rehearsal Photo by Katrina Playford

Rehearsal Photo by Katrina Playford

An interview with Rikki Tarascas and Laurie Cannon about the play, the trials and tribulations of mental health and why this is the first play they have chosen to do as Tanglehead Productions.

By Katrina Playford

As someone who has suffered with depression for nearly 14 years, I have often been in a place where you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. One thing that has always got me through is my love of film, and I cant deny that One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest is up there on my list of favourites. So when I saw that Tanglehead Productions were putting on this play as part of the Brighton Festival Fringe I was desperate to know what it was all about. The group let me into the rehearsals to get a first hand look at their take on the iconic story.

The play is site specific, taking place over 3 floors of the Happy Cell in Hove. The Happy Cell is a natural health centre offering yoga, massage, hydrotherapy etc.

Not only does the play involve a cast of 16. With this particular production, the audience members essentially become the inmates. They are led in by stewards to a holding area, where they are given wristbands and overshoes. Throughout, the audience are interspersed between the actors, allowing them to feel fully immersed within the whole experience.

Director Rikki Tarascas and producers Laurie Cannon and Sarah Barfoot, founders of Tanglehead Productions (set up in 2010), are sure this is a play that will not only be remembered in its own right as a separate entity from the film, but also something that will seep into the consciousness of their audience. They hope it will make them think about themselves, society and mental health issues that are everywhere in our daily lives. I spoke to the Director Rikki Tarascas and Actor/Producer Laurie Cannon about their take on the play.

Why One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest?

R.T: Well, strangely enough, because of a location that we found accidentally. I was outside of the location and we were intending to put on a production of a Harold Pinter play. We were looking for interesting venues and we went into this venue Happy Cell. Outside, I was having a discussion in the car about what do we do if we dont do the Pinter (as the group were waiting on production rights), what else would I like to direct and I thought to myself I really always wanted to direct One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. All of a sudden I went into this venue and it was just a perfect film set for One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. All of us were looking at each other and thinking, but its got 16 people in it, its going to be a monster to try and put together in the time that weve got before the festival. Then we had several discussions and everyone seemed to think it was meant to be, so it grew from there and it was incredibly instinctive and actually there is something incredibly right about it.

Its a fantastic play, a fantastic script, and its very relevant now. I know quite a few people who suffer from depression and I have had lots of dealings with friends and family whove had issues with mental health; its a really incredible subject to talk about. Loads of people are on anti-depressants at the moment and it could be something to do with the demise of religion, and the consumer society.

Its as if people are lost, they dont know where they are in some respects. The stresses and strains of everyday life put lots of pressure on people. Things arent in balance really and for me its to do with certain aspects of the consumer society. But its also to do with a loss of community, and I think that the play is about that and also it is to do with the abuse of power, which is a theme that is extremely important in the play.

L.C: The whole thing clicked, its unbelievable, the venue is crying out for this production. I wont say anymore, but it is a perfect fit. Its an unusual space, but it is custom made for the play. Its the venue that drew us to doing this production. Its a fabulous play, its an incredible story, its extremely well written, and it has all the ingredients.

There is a hero, there is a huge story and its really a marvellous text to work with. Its immensely sad, and I guess that combination of humour and sadness and the fallen hero is like one of those archetypal stories, but set in a very real human life background. Thats the point, it could be you, could be me, and it could be here today in Brighton.

What is site specific work?

L.C: It is anywhere but in a theatre. The whole idea is that the audience is immersed in the production because of the surroundings, because of the proximity and because it is in more than one location in the building. So their very involved in the performance, they are essentially part of it, not just onlookers, but involved. They are necessary for the show to work.

In what respect are the audience required to participate?

R.T: Not in the sense that they are going to be frightened, in fact its amusing more than anything else; its quite light hearted, so they arent going to be embarrassed. The audience arent actually incorporated into the main story. The main story is actually the scripted stuff, there isnt any improvisation in the scripted stuff and there isnt any audience participation in it.

Is it frightening for the actors, knowing that an audience member may try to get involved?

R.T: The thing is that the actors have all been trained to respond in particular ways, so there are techniques you can use to control the situation. It isnt madly uncontrolled stuff; its all extremely tightly controlled and very carefully structured.

L.C: Its great actually, because if you do precisely the same thing night after night after night, how do you stay fresh, and if it is exciting for us, then it is going to be exciting for the audience, because thats what transmits itself, thats what happens.

Rikki, how are you choosing to direct?

R.T: I was an actor, so I understand the position of the actor and I direct shows so that they need very few props and ornament, there actor based, which means that you have to engage with the psychology of the characters.

I used to teach in quite a few drama schools and I taught the Stanislavski system, which is to do with understanding the psychology of the characters. It is an aspect of what came to be known as method acting, so its trying to keep things real, so that the actors are really engaged in the action absolutely. They are asking questions about why they are doing particular things all the time, which is essentially how you construct your character, you have to understand what youre doing, how youre doing it and why youre doing it.

Is there a problem with actors becoming so consumed with their character that they cant get out of that mindset?

R.T: It can be a problem for some people, in this particular instance I wouldnt let that happen. But, there are instances in rehearsals where people have to move into particular states of mind and we all look after each other in those situations. Ive got a great group of actors who Im working with and we do all sorts of exercises before we start the rehearsals. So the idea is that before you start these processes, you go through exercises that help you trust each other and look after each other, physically, intellectually and emotionally.

Everyones incredibly supportive, thats how I like to work as a director, and I like to create an environment where people are actually having a good time. I structure things, but the actors make discoveries themselves. A director for me is not somebody who just tells people what to do and how to do it; they are somebody who guides the actors through the process and works alongside them.

How does it differ from the film?

R.T: In a way, the reason I wanted to do it as a site specific piece was because the venue was screaming film set at me, I direct in a very physical and visual style and always have done. So, I can only describe it as I shift energy around the space, so that theres always something happening. The discoveries Ive made through the directing process are that the story is about the relation between the central character McMurphy and Chief (the American Indian). Its to do with giving the American Indian his spirit back, which has been crushed by an authoritarian regime that crushed the spirit of the Indian nation very early on in the history of the Americas.

So the theatre and the film in this particular instance are quite similar, the comedies there, the tragedies there, the characters are there and this production will be very film like. The story runs rather like the film, but its more direct because youre there in the asylum with the inmates.

Its also amusing, but the important thing is that I dont want us to laugh at the characters, were laughing with them, at just the extremes of human emotion. It is a very human show, it is about humanity at its worst and its best and its about our need to control our lives and to fit in or not. Its about inherent racism which happens in a lot of cultures and it exposes humanity.

How do you research for a subject like this?

L.C: Well I guess we have looked at things that crop up in the text, maybe to do with our particular characters condition and just done a bit of background work to find out what is a psychosis, what is a psychotic, hows the whole aspect of electric shock treatment, for example, used today. In fact, it still is used today, sometimes against peoples will.

Its kind of interesting; during our rehearsal process and our research for the play, we have been looking at different aspects of mental health, and all of the cast have contributed with information they have found out. And its interesting; more or less everybody has had some contact with somebody who suffered from depression, we have people in the group whose mothers have hung themselves. Its kind of amazing, we didnt chose people for that reason, but once you look behind it everybody knows somebody whos been in that really dire situation and not had help.

Its quite frightening stuff, but dont be put off coming to see it. Its a great story and there are some really great characters in the play.

Laurie, which character are you playing?

L.C: Im playing Dale Harding, who is the President of the patients counsel. Hes a rather nervous individual and he has been here before. Actually, its kind of his lifes work to study Psychology, so he has read everything there is to know and he still cant figure it out.

What do you want your audience to take away from this experience?

L.C: A whole multitude of things really, but we want them to have an emotional experience. Most people are familiar with the film, but the stage play was written sometime before the screen play, it is a real rollercoaster, and the whole narrative will take the audience on that journey. Its funny in parts, its a hugely emotional thing and of course there is a sort of sadness to it. There is a social context of things that are happening in our world and our country today that relate to our play, so we want them to think about that as well.

Is it a stressful production to take on?

R.T: It is stressful, but as I say, I couldnt have a better team of people to work with, they are an absolutely fantastic group of actors that I have got, and after a production like this, all of us become good friends. So its a bit like the play itself.

You want to take this play to other sites. Is it going to be easy to find another venue?

R.T: Nothing is easy, but Ive got good credentials, in the sense that I have reviews in all the newspapers and can go up to people and say hey look at these reviews. So I will do that; and also I have a lot of contacts in lots of places. But I think the show deserves an airing, this is going to be a good production and Im extremely excited about it.

L.C: We do have other venues in mind, Lewes probably and one in North London as well.

It was an absolute pleasure to meet the cast and I would like to thank Sarah Barfoot (producer) for arranging this insightful interview. She plays Nurse Ratched, and she will definitely be doing the character justice.

I know I will be getting tickets to see Tangleheads One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. But remember with only 8 nights of the show and 60 tickets on sale per night. Its a very intimate show and its selling very well already. So why travel to London to watch a play, when we have all of this exciting talent right on our doorstep. For more see

Live at The Happy Cell, 121-3 Davigdor Road Hove, BN3 1RE

Start Time: 7:30 pm on the 7th, 8th, 13th, 14th, 15th 20th, 21st and 22nd May 2011

Dr Ben Hayes, Project Director of Statewatch (who monitor the state and civil liberties in Europe), will be holding a talk on civil liberties in the mental health system on the opening night.


Telephone Brighton Festival Fringe 01273 917 272


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