THE Torch Theatre’s decision to highlight mental health as part of its 40th anniversary celebrations is an important one.

Its latest production - One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest - is an illuminative example of how poorly and - at times - dangerously, psychological conditions were (and sometimes still are) dealt with.

Set in a psychiatric institution in 1950s Oregon, the play centres around Randle P McMurphy, a ‘petty criminal’ who chooses time in hospital over a further spell in prison.

In order to do so, Randle (or should we call him Randy?) fakes mental illness, thinking his time on the inside will be a breeze compared to life in the slammer.

A man clearly used to being on top, Randle purposefully ingratiates himself with the other men on the ward, gaining their respect and confidence.

But unsettled by a few short, sharp encounters with the ward’s all-knowing and all-seeing Nurse Ratched - and comfortable in the knowledge (at least initially) that this will not be his permanent home - Randle lays the building blocks for a patient revolution.

Debauchery and disorder ensue, as Randle encourages his fellow ‘boys’ to break free from their shackles, and in so doing we learn that what is really holding them back is not their ‘conditions’, but the institution itself.

Directed by the Torch’s own Peter Doran – who also makes a welcome return to the stage as the bearish Scanlon (think Father Jack Hackett minus the dog collar) – this production proves the theatre has the skills, resources and creativity to take on such a big endeavour.

I was not the only viewer to be wowed by the craftsmanship and attention to detail of the set and props, which gave the stage a feeling of depth; a feeling that we were seeing just a glimpse of the horrors that took place in the these places only decades ago.

Almost stealing the show was the lighting – casting a realistic, clinical morning glow onto the ward, and cloaking it in moonlight for the quieter, more reflective scenes.

Strong performances from the supporting cast bought moments of real joy and tenderness, with Will Taylor’s depiction of Billy being by far the strongest.

Through his idolisation of Randle, this stammering, willowy young man, who has been shoved and squashed by those around him all his short life, is for the first time given a voice… only to have it cruelly snatched away from him again before the last curtain falls.

But despite the Torch’s confident handling of this mammoth production, certain aspects of the script left a sour taste in the mouth.

Randle is introduced as a violent criminal and a rapist, facts quickly overlooked.

Yes, this play is set almost 60 years ago, but it will be viewed by a modern audience.

I feel Randle came across as too light-hearted, with his darker transgressions glossed over in order to help the viewer form an attachment to him.

He may be an anti-hero, but at times I felt uncomfortable with how ‘Carry On…’ his carryings-on were dealt with.

Whether period piece or not, too many of the laughs relied on the casual abuse of women.

Despite the constraints of Dale Wasserman’s adaptation though, Miriam O’Brien gives a delightful and energetic performance as Candy, and the withering stares, cutting criticisms and barely-contained rage of Nurse Ratched (Jenny Livsey) will stay with me for some time.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is a reminder of how horrific mental health care was, and how far it has come.

It reveals that behind every ‘label’ is a person, with their own hopes, dreams and fears, and the devastating effect these stigmas can have.

And with Pembrokeshire on the cusp of big changes to how – and from where – mental health services will be delivered, it is only right that this often overlooked subject is given centre stage.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is on at the Torch Theatre until October 28. Tickets are £18, with concessions available.

This production contains strong language and mild adult themes and is not suitable for children.

Recommended for ages 14 years and over.

To book tickets or for more information visit

  • There will be a Q&A session with cast members directly after the performance of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ on Thursday 26 October.