Hollywood jitters hit the Fringe's big show

Director pulls out and star falls ill at Edinburgh production of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'. Anthony Barnes reports
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

It is tipped to be the big hit of the Edinburgh Fringe, a stage version of the movie hit One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest starring a major Hollywood name. But the production has hit its second major crisis in a week, only days before it is due to open.

It is tipped to be the big hit of the Edinburgh Fringe, a stage version of the movie hit One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest starring a major Hollywood name. But the production has hit its second major crisis in a week, only days before it is due to open.

First the director, Guy Masterson, withdrew from the show, exhausted by the stress of staging the production and illness within his family. Then it was revealed that the big-name lead, the actor Christian Slater, had contracted chicken pox. All of which puts a question mark over whether the show will open as planned on Friday.

The producer, Nica Burns, said: "All we can do is take it on a daily basis, but we are hoping he will be ready in time."

The show was due to be Masterson's follow-up to last year's 12 Angry Men, the highest-grossing drama in the fringe's history. Tickets were already selling well before Slater was announced in the lead role of R P McMurphy, who was memorably played by Jack Nicholson in the screen adaptation of Ken Kesey's novel set in a mental institution.

There had been claims that Slater was a perfectionist who was taking a commanding role at rehearsals while Masterson took something of a back seat. But insiders say this was because the director was already feeling below par and the cast were having to rally round.

Masterson had been struggling with the workload, working 18-hour days that left him physically exhausted. Ill health in his family exacerbated the situation.

One source close to the production said: "Guy's main experience had been working with comedians. He hadn't been used to working with people who have as much stage experience as his cast."

Masterson said of his own withdrawal: "I am very exhausted, physically and emotionally. It wasn't just the show, there was a lot of other stuff in my life, but the show was the thing that pushed me over the edge. It's all mounted up and there was a danger that I might harm myself or the production."

The production is now being directed by Terry Johnson, who has experience of working with the demands of the Hollywood set and adapting a text which is probably better known to cinema audiences, having been behind the West End adaptation of The Graduate, with stars including Kathleen Turner.

Johnson was brought on board within hours of his predecessor's departure from the production, which also features Mackenzie Crook, who played Gareth in the BBC comedy The Office, actress Frances Barber, and a number of stand-up comics.

He is being assisted by Tamara Harvey, who recently directed Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare's Globe in London, and the touring version of The Graduate.

"There have been very few changes in the play since Guy left," said Ms Burns. "It's all about the text at the end of the day. This play is very much about doing the lines that have been written. Everyone's very comfortable with the new arrangements."

Slater, whose movies include Heathers, True Romance and Broken Arrow, has recently been the subject of a string of tabloid stories about his visits to A-list restaurants and the lap-dancing venue Stringfellows during his stay in London for rehearsals.

Producers say his illness is a blow, but Ms Burns said she was keeping her fingers crossed that he would be fit for the first performance at Edinburgh's Assembly Rooms this week.

"We don't know exactly when Christian will be fit to come back to work, but there's no question of him walking out," she said. "He's obviously been given medication and he needs to get some sleep, but he's generally healthy and in good shape so that will aid his recovery.

"He said he had a fever and he was coming out in blotches. Felix Dexter [another member of the cast] got it in the second week of rehearsals, although he wasn't actually off for very long - you feel ill and get the spots when you are over the worst of it.

"It's just one of those things, Sometimes when you have a crisis two things tend to happen. Either everything falls to bits or everything comes together. With our first crisis, the latter happened. Our two new directors have been very inspiring and created a very good feeling.

"Christian is so excited about going to Edinburgh, playing London and being on stage."

The play is due to transfer to London's Gielgud Theatre from 3 September.

Comments