Reviewer's Rating

4
Performances
4.5
Costumes
4
Sets
4
Lighting
4
Sound
4
Direction
4
Stage Management

People's Rating

5
Performances
5
Costumes
5
Sets
5
Lighting
5
Sound
5
Direction
5
Stage Management

Combined Rating

4.5
Performances
4.75
Costumes
4.5
Sets
4.5
Lighting
4.5
Sound
4.5
Direction
4.5
Stage Management

Baker’s Dozen Theatre Company has done justice to this early work by the very- established playwright and TV screenwriter, Mike Bartlett. Bartlett wrote Cock when he was in his late 20s and it wowed the London audience at the Royal Court theatre and went on to win the Olivier Award for outstanding achievement in affiliate theatre in 2010. It is a thrilling venture into the landscape of young love conveying the angst, highs and shattering disappointments such terrain can bring.

John (Matthew Connell) has lived his life so far identifying as a gay man and is living with his partner, M (Shaun Goss). On his commute to work one day he encounters W (Marissa O’Reilly), a woman who he begins to fancy and with whom he develops relationship. They make plans together and within a short time John becomes torn between this new attachment and his old one. Should he stick with his ‘true nature’ and the tried and trusted relationship with M or follow this newfound love and the promise of hetero normative life plus this newly discovered penchant for the intimacy of the female form.

It all comes to ahead at the dinner table in John and M’s London flat with a surprise guest to boot. Who will John choose? What path in life is he prepared to take on? The play not only offers the suspense of this dilemma but it is a serious look at a battle between suitors and the need for individuals to attain long-term love. It also questions the nature of sexuality and whether sexual orientation is fluid or fixed.

Bartlett’s work up to date, in many instances, has explored the dichotomy between the new liberal free thinking social media society with the governmental systems that are entrenched in more traditional ways. Cock explores this divide in terms of fluid sexuality versus the more traditional aspiration of the family unit.

I am reminded of the 2014 production of Cock at the Melbourne Theatre Company that was fun and well acted, it really honed in on the Rom-Com aspect of the script. This MTC production also had quite a quirky set comprising of an array of fluffy white pillows that adorned the Fairfax stage almost completely.

With this production, however, director, Beng Oh, pares everything back. Completely. In doing so he navigates this terrain of young love with finesse and subtlety using nothing but his actors’ instruments and talent. There are no props, set, complex lighting or sound cues. This decision to pare the production back, in keeping with what the script really demands, is a refreshing and brave one. Relying solely on the prowess of the actors – their voice and each one’s physicality – the piece is propelled forward and it is 90 minutes of intrigue and humour. The use of theatre-in-the–round is also used to great effect – it is intimate and the actors have nowhere to hide.

Oh manages to bring out the angst and emotion in the characters that are in dire combat with each other and the fluffy rom-com feel of the play is diminished and a more serious edge is brought about in presenting the underlying themes of the play. The fighting teeters on the brink of polite contempt to all out brawling. The climatic dinner table scene conveys all the emotional undercurrent required by the script as each of the four characters are carefully placed by Oh equidistant from each other on the circumference of the round theatrical space. During this scene the focus of each actor is evident; they are competent, energetic and committed to their role. Connell’s John is especially good because he does convey a character in crisis and avoids falling into overplaying his angst or becoming the ‘poor me’ white middle class man trying to grab our sympathy. Connell is excellent in conveying his character’s mindset that reveals how tricky the bisexuality continuum can be. Another memorable scene is John and W’s first encounter. O’Reilly and Connell execute this stylised love scene with precision and they convey the scene’s intimacy and trepidation beautifully.

Is evident that Oh has gained the complete trust of his actors. The minimalism of this production plus the in-the-round configuration allows it to triumph. One is taken into the inner lives of three people desperately fighting their corner. I guess this goes to explain the title; it’s a cockfight – the dancing, attacking, withdrawing and the keeping of a cool head when there is much at stake. It is well worth attending this performance. It is a treat to see this earlier work in order to ready yourself for Bartlett’s new play, Wild, which is coming next month to the Melbourne stage.

 

 

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