Images; Sean Dowling
The American novelist Stephen King once described the best stories as those that focus on either almost everyone in an entire community or those that focus on just a few critical characters. Cock is definitely in the latter category. Directed by Leticia Cáceres, this touring production of Mike Bartlett‘s sharp and witty play takes the most fundamental concepts of a love triangle and turns them on their heads. I absolutely loved the production. With innovative direction, stellar acting and inspired writing, Cock is a fine example of modern theatrical story-telling.
Cock concerns a young man, John, who is confused about his sexuality but not in the way one might expect. He initially determines that he is gay but finds himself attracted to a woman ‘W’ and sleeps with her. However, by the time he makes this discovery, John is already in a long-term relationship with a man ‘M’. As the events of the play unfold, John invites both the man and the woman to dinner to help understand whether he should choose a path of heterosexuality or homosexuality.
What really makes Cock work, though, is its microscopic focus on the essential characters. It never feels as though the writer, Mike Bartlett gives his audience any more than it needs to know. This is invariably a good thing; the simplicity of the text allows for the complexity of its characters and their relationships with one another to develop with clarity. Furthermore, it allows the audience some breathing room to ingest the subtext of the awkward animal nature of human relationships.
The title of the play, whilst cheeky and provocative is not so much paying homage to the male genitalia as to the idea of a rooster and in particular to cock-fighting. This concept is well supported by set and costume designer Marg Horwell’s and lighting designer Rachel Burke’s realisations, both of which contribute superbly to the overall feel of the show. The stage, tiled with white, square pillows downed with feathers and bathed in lighting gives the sense of being at an illegal cock-fight. The visual world of the play is complemented by current composer-in-residence at MTC THE SWEAT‘s sound design.
Productions can so easily fall into the trap of being carried by their lead, and while Tom Conroy anchors the play wonderfully, Eamon Flack, who portrays John’s confused yet ultimately loving male partner ‘M’, was particularly impressive. On opening night, the entire cast – which also includes Sophie Ross ‘W’ and Tony Rickards ‘F’ – received three well-deserved curtain calls to enthusiastic applause till house lights up.
There are only two criticisms that I have of the production as whole. First, the decision to change dialects from British to Australian without changing certain words within the script – ‘tube’ (the London underground system), ‘pounds’ and ‘Blue Peter’ could easily have been replaced with Australian equivalents; these jar on the ear when taken out of context. Additionally, I didn’t think that the normally extraordinary compositional talents of Missy Higgins contributed anything of value to the production as a whole. The musical interludes were pleasant but felt additional rather than integral.
This touring production from Melbourne Theatre Company is one worth seeing, to experience some wonderful performances and an intriguing story told well. Though not advised, you will most probably feel a child-like urge to run onto the set before the production commences and play with all of those pillows!
COCK by Mike Bartlett
Lat Boite Theatre at the Roundhouse
Season 27 Mar – 12 Apr 2014
Tues & Wed 6.30pm
Thurs – Sat 7.30pm
Duration: 1 hour and 40 minutes (no interval)