It’s a bit bonkers and a bit brilliant – and, given that it’s a hip-hop dance theatre take on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, what more could you want? Insane in the Brain, by the Swedish company Bounce, makes Ken Kesey’s classic counterculture story of power and madness in a mental institution seem designed for a hip-hop makeover. True, hip-hop’s skewed poses, crazy angles and zombie walks lend themselves to the subject; but Bounce transform the style into real theatre.
The characters are portrayed physically: stammering Billy (David Dalmo) is a mass of tics; geeky Dale (Alvaro Aguilera) is obsessively self-controlled. Mrs Taber (Ambra Succi) is a bipolar mover, her body tugging her in opposite directions. Ideas are also neatly given physical form. Fearsome Nurse Ratched (Teneisha Bonner, a tiny powerhouse of megalomania) puts her patients through a daily ballet routine, a visceral encapsulation of the suppression of individuality and the imposition of external discipline. It is contrasted with a kind of free-form, experimental hip-hop that revels in expression and play.
That makes the production sound serious; actually, it’s a riot. The story zips between high drama, knockabout comedy and heartwarming sentiment. There is an unexpected film interlude – think Buster Keaton meets krumping on MTV – and the liberation of the inmates’ spirits is figured, hilariously, through stoned dub, trippy bhangra and, finally, some frenetic aerobics straight out of Flashdance.
Most impressive is the show’s freewheeling way with genre: hip-hop may be the basis, but it’s not a constraint. So the choreography never resorts to straightforward display, and the music careens between rap, jazz-funk, metal, Grieg and tango, but is always apt. Combine this with unpretentious performances, atmospheric lighting and versatile sets, and you’ve got a popular hit.