mon 22/07/2024

Insane in the Brain, Peacock Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Insane in the Brain, Peacock Theatre

Insane in the Brain, Peacock Theatre

Swedish Cuckoo's Nest has two good scenes, but not enough thrilling dancing

Bounce's Fredrik Rydman as McMurphy goofs a lot and b-boys a bitHakan Larsson

On Britain’s Got Talent this year Diversity and Flawless raised the bar for street dance as far as mass British audiences were concerned, a public increasingly schooled by Sadler’s Wells’ smart and eclectic annual spring hip-hop festival. So Bounce, the Swedish crew  returning to London with its 2006 version of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, has new standards to compete with.

The title, Insane in the Brain, is the clue to the general outlook of the performance, which translates a would-be tragic melodrama into undemanding light entertainment with mild street dance and a big metal set. Little here about proper strenuous dance, and too much about bad acting. But it does have two clever theatrical coups that I’m quite glad I saw and I’m going to have to reveal at the end of this.

Kesey’s story (which he invented after having an LSD trip when working as a hospital orderly) tells a make-'em-laugh-make-'em-cry story of a lively maverick penned up for dubious reasons inside a mental hospital run on a sedation regime by a tyrannical matron, and then lobotomised into submission when he shows his fellow patients a bit of normal raunchy fun.

The Bounce collective apparently take this as a cue for a holiday camp treatment, but they lack Hattie Jacques for Nurse Ratched and Kenneth Williams for McMurphy. Laugh at lunatics, suicide, lobotomy and murder by all means, I'd say, but make it satirical or grotesquely funny, or do it the opposite way as a surreal horror story.

Bounce do neither, just some school-level laughs mostly, and last night's mainly young audience were fairly subdued. I wondered how many of them had seen the fearsome Louise Fletcher wearing down Jack Nicholson in the Milos Forman film of 1975. The choice for the Nurse Ratched part here was woeful, fumbling her dancing and pitching the part uncertainly as a sort of comic housemother. The b-boying of the lead man Fredrik Rydman isn’t great either, and he gives McMurphy goofy grins but no character.

Street dance is a haunted area of dance; like tap dance, it needs its murky street bloodline to be poking out of the performance or else it’s little more than tumbling, and Bounce’s energetic but not specially sharp routines to the usual ear-crunching thumping, Lionel Ritchie, Edvard Grieg and even a ballet barre - bizarre - come across as weirdly pointless.

Fetching blonde Jennie Widegren lights up the show, as a patient who won’t stop dropping her trousers. (As well as being the best dancer to watch, she also wears a very little pink swimsuit to stunning effect, particularly seen from behind, in a dream disco sequence.)

Then there are those two highlights, first a funny cut in action to a silent movie made by the crew, playing burglars in a snowbound mansion in Edwardian times, where there is a fine krumping battle between themselves and the mister in tails and missus in her bun and bustle.

This is trounced by the coup de théâtre of the ECT treatment of the escapees, with them bouncing dangerously on bungee ropes high against the wall while Ratched and her two ward assistants stomp about on the ground below, the lot assailed by demonic blasts of light (lighting by Palle Palmé). Very flat, the rest.

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