Woody or won't he fly over for Fringe?

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HOLLYWOOD actor Woody Harrelson is being lined up to appear in a stage adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at this year’s Fringe Festival.

The actor, best known for his role in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers and the television series Cheers, is believed to be in talks to play Randle P McMurphy, the convicted psychotic drifter at the centre of Ken Kesey’s novel set in a mental asylum in the north-western United States.

Already confirmed for the play is actor Mackenzie Crook, star of the award-winning television series The Office.

Harrelson, 43, is being touted for the role which was made famous by Jack Nicholson in the 1975 movie version of the dark classic.

A source told the Evening News: "The star of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has not been confirmed, but it is looking likely that Woody Harrelson may be doing it."

The producer of the play, Guy Masterson - who was behind last year’s surprise Fringe hit 12 Angry Men - refused to be drawn on the rumours that Harrelson was being lined up for the lead role.

"That’s an interesting idea, but not one that I can confirm," he said.

Insiders say that Sean Bean, Michael Madsen and Robert Downey Jr have also been approached in connection with the production.

Crook, 32, recently broke into the film world, appearing in the smash-hit Pirates of the Caribbean, starring Johnny Depp, and the much-maligned Sex Lives of the Potato Men. The man who is best known to millions of British TV viewers as Gareth Keenan in the hit BBC comedy The Office will play Billy Bibbitt in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Fringe organiser Paul Gudgin spoke of his delight at the prospect of securing two acclaimed actors for the show.

He said: "We are always pleased when recognisable names agree to perform in Fringe shows. The capture of Harrelson would be a real coup and we’re delighted Mackenzie will again return.

"People are attracted to big names and they cause a lot of excitement. When Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon performed in The Guys in 2002 they were extremely well received.

"But the great thing about the Fringe is that it’s a level playing field for the famous and the unknown. The audience does not expect any airs or graces and simply wants to see fantastic shows.

"It’s known as the ‘world’s first incubator of artistic talent’ and it’s a wonderful place for young actors to come and see if they can cut the mustard."

For Crook, the show will be a welcome return to the Capital. He was spotted by Bob Mortimer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1997, which led him to work for the company that makes the TV show Shooting Stars.

That in turn led to various sketch shows, a few parts on dramas like The Bill, and finally The Office.

The play, which will run at the Assembly Rooms from August 6-30, is set in a ward of a state mental hospital in 1965. It is due to transfer to London’s West End soon after its Edinburgh run.

The action begins as the disruptive influence of ex-con McMurphy arrives to challenge the strict regime enforced by sadistic control freak Nurse Ratched.

Masterson’s previous productions have won eight Fringe First Awards and three Stage Best Actor Awards, including one for director himself in 2001.

The play will reunite six of the cast who starred in 12 Angry Men - Owen O’Neill, David Calvitto, Ian Coppinger, Dave Johns, Gavin Robertson and Phil Nichol.

Actress Frances Barber, whose television credits include My Family, Holby City and Inspector Morse, will play Nurse Ratched, and Fringe favourites Stephen K Amos, Adrian Hope, Katherine Jakeways, Lucy Porter and Lizzie Roper, who played Trish in the recent hit BBC drama, Worst Week of My Life, complete the cast.

The theatrical adaptation of Kesey’s seminal novel has proved a popular choice with Fringe companies in the past.

Last year, both Leicestershire Youth Arts and Daf Left Theatre Company tackled the challenging piece.