Young actor Arthur Hughes recently impressed on stage at the Crucible in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and now he returns in a play set in a high-security mental hospital ward.
Based like the hit 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on Ken Kasey’s novel, the story follows petty criminal McMurphy, who opts to spend his jail sentence in a psychiatric ward.
As the reality of what this actually means dawns, he comes up against the authoritarian Nurse Ratched, who is not about to give up on her regime of discipline and order without a fight.
Arthur plays vulnerable patient Billy. “He has a quite noticeable stammer and a lot of anxieties towards women that are about his mother and masculinity.
“McMurphy comes into the mix and he’s quite anti-authority and quite intimidating. He opens up a lot of avenues for Billy that have been closed down.”
He added: “It’s quite interesting playing someone with a stammer, and to find out the muscularity behind it, as well as finding out why he stammers and how he isolates himself.”
In rehearsals, the actors have talked about what might lie behind Billy’s stammer. “Those questions are starting to be answered more. It’s my favourite part, rehearsals are so much fun, a chance to ask all those questions and have them answered and then figure out what to do.
“It’s where you make all your mistakes and have a laugh.”
Arthur has warmed to the character: “If I met him in real life, I’d feel quite sorry for him. He needs figures to hold on to – Nurse Ratched as a mother figure and McMurphy as a brother or father figure.
“He needs someone to look after him and make sure he doesn’t stray to the edge of hurting himself.
“I don’t think we’d be friends but I’d feel some sort of duty of care for him, someone who is that fragile, but I wouldn’t know what to do. That’s a lot to deal with.
“He is not a nasty or bad person but he has got a lot of stuff going on.”
Arthur said he read the book recently and has seen the film quite a few times. “You have got to be careful, I don’t want to imitate what Brad Dourif did in the film. I found the book quite a good way in and I have to trust my instincts.”
Arthur has a disability that affects one arm, which he is quick to joke about: “It was slowing me down. I go a lot faster now!
“In terms of acting, it’s been a different road to the traditional. I’ve been very lucky and done some great stuff.
“The industry is changing slowly but surely.
“There are two disabled cast members in this show and there were two in Julius Caesar.
“Theatres are taking these things into account in the quest for diversity and it’s heartening. Billy Bibbit isn’t written in the book as having two arms and two thumbs, that’s what people assume.
“Now we see a leap forward – if you are a good actor you can have a go at that role.
“Over just a couple of years of doing stuff and getting to know the industry, I’ve got to know where my place is. My identity is as a disabled actor but also as just an actor.”
Arthur is excited to be making his TV debut in a show on Netflix, supernatural thriller The Innocents.
He said: “It’s about shape shifters. The lead is a girl who has this power and runs away from Yorkshire, where she lives in the Dales.
“I play her older brother who is agoraphobic and I live in this barn that I haven’t left for years.”
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. Runs to June 23
Box office: www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk