Interview with Mike West
Mike West will direct One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest this coming season. We catch up with him and find out about his interest in and experiences of theatre as well as his motivation for staging this fantastic show.
(Interview August 2020)
- When did you first become interested in theatre?
At school when I was fifteen. We had an English teacher come who wanted to put on a play – something that had not happened in our school before. I auditioned with a friend – ‘You going to audition?’ ‘Yeah … why not … might be fun.’ and got cast as the Juror Number 4 in 12 Angry Men. When the moment came for my character to change his vote, Brian, our teacher, had told me to pause. In that moment I could feel the energy of anticipation from the audience. We talk a lot about energy on stage, and performances; all of a sudden, flying for some strange reason. That was my first experience of it. The whole audience was hanging on my every word. They were there. I felt it. And I was hooked.
- You have acted, worked backstage, taught and examined theatre and also directed – what aspects of each do you enjoy?
Acting, for me, is about the fascinating journey of becoming somebody else. I also find something therapeutic in that journey. To assume a different character, you have to put your own character to one side. In doing that, sometimes, you see things.
Backstage, for me, is about the smooth running of the well organised machine … and the thinking on the spot when the inevitable something goes wrong. Creating illusions too. There is something strong in that for me. Even as an actor, I get a tremendous kick out of being on stage but out of sight.
- Who/what inspires your work?
That is a hard one. I like plays that have something to say about people. I like plays that explore. I like leaving a theatre having been made to think. I like Beckett, Pinter, Caryl Churchill, Shakespeare … authors who ask questions of you. I also adore a good comedy but that is about technique for me. We did Black Comedy at school and the kids and I spend hours working on business. No character development or motivation … none of that stuff just timing and business, and it was SO hard!
- How long have you been a member of NWTC and why did you join?
I’ve been a member since the mid 1990s, I think. My then wife and I were involved in Pirates, she very much so and that rekindled the desire in me. At first I did a bit of chorus work for Pirates then took the leap and auditioned for some plays. My first NWTC role was as Neville in Neville’s Island.
- How (what roles acting/backstage) have you been involved in NWTC and is there a particular role you have always hoped to play?
Oh boy – that’s a long list. I directed seventeen productions at ISL and have acted and worked backstage in lots of NWTC, Pirates and other organisation’s productions. I really enjoy comedy. The mechanics of it fascinate me. There are a couple of roles that went by here but I didn’t get cast – never mind. Brian P and I have agreed it will have to be pistols at dawn for who gets Alfred Doolittle if we ever do My Fair Lady in Luxembourg! I would love to play Ben in The Dumb Waiter. Pinter plays with rhythm (like the comedy of Jacques Tati) and that fascinates me.
- What was your reaction when you first came across One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?
I cried. I still cry every time I get to the end of the play.
- Why have you decided to direct One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?
Because, following on from the last question, for me it is about people. Nobody actually needs to be there: they either work there or they are volunteers for care. MacMurphy is initially swinging the lead, avoiding hard work on a prison farm, and the Chief is hiding. They could all walk away. But they don’t. And the most dysfunctional of all the cast? Ratched … the nurse. Why are the events of the play happening? I hope that the cast, helped by me, can discover why.
- People might be familiar with the film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. For you, what is the difference (and perhaps advantage) of performing this story in a theatrical setting?
This goes back to the first question – energy. Contact with the audience. Phil Clarke, a recent LEATSS summer school tutor said, ‘the actors go to the edge but it must be the audience that jump.’ The emotional happening has to be down there, in the stalls. It’s a live experience that you just can’t do on film. It’s not the same. I saw a powerful performance in London of Six Actors in Search of an Author and the first act closed to stunned silence from the audience. Then we exploded into applause. That’s theatre. And I can imagine an actor behind that closed curtain giving a fist pump and saying, ‘YES!’
- You have secured the beautiful venue of Mersch Kulturhaus. What does it offer you in terms of staging a production such as this?
I had always though I might like to direct the play almost in the round, three-quarters in the round anyway. But a real theatre with its lighting possibilities, moveable stage possibilities, backstage possibilities and comfort for the cast and crew and, very importantly, the audience is an opportunity not to be missed. Perhaps lighting rises to the top of the list? In a theatre it is possible to have really dark areas. I’m planning a bit of a ‘see-through’ set and it needs, therefore, to be black behind so that characters can come in and out of the light. That kind of lighting really is not possible in a hired hall.
- What would you say to potential auditionees who are perhaps a little nervous?...
Don’t be! Come and have fun. The play has some hilarious moments, poignant moments and some tear-jerking moments. There are a variety of roles, large and small and its an ensemble piece – it needs a company who are all up for it. Come and explore people and what they do. That’s really the stuff of life … isn’t it?
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
by Dale Wasserman, based on the novel by Ken Kesey -
for more information about auditions click here.
Performances will on 4, 5, 6 & & March 2021 at Mersch Kulturhaus