Interview with Michael Beckley and Thomas Renshaw
“Don’t be mad come and see this play.” Michael Beckley playing Randle McMurphy
Former Home and Away star, Michael Beckley and De Montfort University graduate, Tom Renshaw, spoke to freelance journalist, Jemma Crowston, about their upcoming roles in Curve’s new production of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Based on the 1962 novel by Ken Kesey, which was later adapted for the 1975 film starring Jack Nicholson, Michael Buffong, award winning film, stage and television director, will bring his explosive adaptation of this cult classic alive in Leicester next week.
Upon being sentenced to prison, Randle P. McMurphy hopes to avoid hard labour with a stint in a mental institution. However, his anti-authoritarian attitude and compassion for his fellow patients make him a prime target for the insanely fearsome Nurse Ratched, which leads to explosive results for everyone, including those caught in the cross-fire.
Beckley, who is most known for his role as Reece Sutherland in the Aussie soap – Home and Away, will play McMurphy for the first time whilst 25-year-old Renshaw will play The Chief for the second time.
The DMU theatre studies graduate first played The Chief as a student, he said, “The rehearsal process have been a lot more thorough and I’ve discovered a lot more about the chief.
“The Chief looks at the world in his own magic way. In the film he is a mute but in the play he acts as the narrator. McMurphy will eventually bring him out of his catatonic state.”
Beckley said that audience can expect more comedy than the novel and film. He said, “Of course there’s humour in a lunatic asylum. Our friends and families have their own little ticks and we do too. We use exaggerated versions of these to portray the characters mannerisms.”
He added, “The novel is so detailed and Buffong has had to cut it down but he doesn’t lose the story in any way. This is one of the best adaptations I have ever read. Each character goes through a journey and by the end of the play they have all transformed.”
The show, which will run for three weeks, uses a rake on set which acts as a sloped hill towards the audience. Beckley said, “The stage is designed to make the audience feel uncomfortable and to feel like they’re in an asylum.”
The pair will join 12 other cast members including Catherine Russell as Nurse Ratched.
Beckley said, “The relationship between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy is between equals. She likes order and calm and he’s all about freedom and freedom of spirit. The whole play will see this story unfold.
“People put on different masks whether it’s for work, when you’re with friends or in another scenario and these men don’t have masks but Nurse Ratched does. Some say that’s why Nurse Ratched is the maddest one in there and she’s running the joint.”
He added, “When all the cast met for the first read through we all just looked around at one another and thought Buffong has picked everyone perfectly for the roles. It went so smoothly and I’ve got a great feeling about this show.”
Renshaw, who grew up near Doncaster, said his favourite scene is the party scene because the cast get to be messy on stage.
Beckley said, “I know this isn’t the answer you’ll want but I love all the scenes. I do particular like the scene between McMurphy and The Chief in act two because it’s a beautiful moment. The rest of the play is full of good meaty stuff that actors love.”
Beckley and Renshaw both agreed that Buffong is a superb director to work for. Renshaw said, “He’s [Buffong] is an actors director. He lets us get on with whatever we want and whilst we’re rehearsing you’ll see him move around the room and make little suggestions by whispering to the cast and then we do the same scene again and it’s completely transformed and you think what did he say?
“I see him as an artist painting a picture. He sits back to look at the whole landscape and then tweaks it here and there.”
One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an American play and so UK born Renshaw and Aussie Beckley both have to act using an accent.
“When I played Lenny in Mice and Men I had to put on a mid-west accent and I’ve worked on mainly American plays so I’ve got used to how to use more vocal chords,” said Renshaw.
Beckley said, “Aussies seem to be really good at putting on an American accent. I’m fascinated with phonetics so I’m really interested in sounds and how to make sounds in different parts of your mouth.”
On their first visit to Leicester’s Curve theatre, the cast were given a personal tour of the state-of-the-art space.
“Wow”, said Renshaw. “It’s just stupidly impressive”, said Beckley.
Beckley, who was working as a dresser in London before auditions, added, “England has a lot of old buildings so theatre can tend to be quite small and pokey but Curve was built with a modern sense in mind and there’s tons of space.”
Renshaw said, “I used to work at the Haymarket as a student and I remember how much it felt like a family because everyone was to friendly and personally and Curve have got that too. It’s great to see these kind of traditions carried on.”
The show will run from Friday, October 14 to Saturday, November 5. Tickets cost from £7.25 - £24.50
To book your tickets phone 0116 242 3595 or visit http://www.curveonline.co.uk/