Reviewer's Rating

5
Overall

People's Rating

Overall

Combined Rating

5
Overall

MTC’s decision to bring UK playwright Mike Bartlett’s 2009 Olivier Award winning play to Melbourne is both a treat for local audiences and an exciting glimpse into the creative decision making of incumbent Artistic Director, Brett Sheehy and his team including Associate Director, Leticia Caceres. 

Caceres’ passion for this script is quite clear in her carefully balanced direction, impeccable casting and brilliantly conceptual presentation. Cock is essentially a three-hander (with one perfectly designed minor fourth character), that pivots around John, a young man at the sexual crossroads.

Since early adulthood he has identified as gay, and for some time he’s been in a monogamous relationship with his boyfriend, but things aren’t feeling right emotionally and he looks for some time apart. While taking this break from his partner, the attentions of a woman who shares his daily commute become surprisingly attractive, and when the flirtation leads to romance and then the bedroom, John’s confusion over his feelings lead to full-blown entanglement. 

In summary, Bartlett’s premise sounds intriguing, if not exactly ground-breaking, but what makes this play unique is the way it plays with an audiences’ allegiances. John (Tom Conroy) at times comes across as a jellyfish, but in the light of his long-term partner’s emotional abuse, empathy arises. His partner can be horribly belittling, yet he clearly loves John and is desperate not to lose him. While his new girlfriend seems sensitive and the opposite of her rival for John’s affections, but the fact she’s willing to allow herself to be manipulated by John through a show-down, or ‘Cock’ fight as it were, paints her as a masochistic mess.

With whip-sharp dialogue that gallops along at a rapid pace, Bartlett doesn’t take the obvious route through a plot, making the results of his triumvirate proposition unexpectedly touching.

Conroy’s edgy and raw performance is worthy of the script and delicately balances the character of John across both sides of his empathetic and contemptible traits. As his potential new girlfriend, Sophie Ross is disarmingly sweet and quick-witted, while Angus Grant’s portrayal of John’s boyfriend takes full advantage of the character’s acid tongue while still allowing the audience to see his vulnerability. This sensitive side is nurtured when Tony Rickards steps in as his father in the final scenes of the play. Marg Horwell costumes Rickards poorly in a tracksuit that seems unfitting of the character, but the strength of experience provides charming warmth and protective aggression in equal measure.

Horwell’s set design is infinitely more successful, covering the stage with multitudes of European pillows that provide an ever-evolving setting, becoming a metaphorically sandbagged bunker as the stage is set for the ‘fight’. Rachel Burke’s lighting reflects the gender direction of each scene and adds nifty stadium-style installations for the final ‘contest’.

Missy Higgins’ musical compositions at the commencement and completion of the story add real emotional depth to the play’s key theme of sexual confusion.

But it is Caceres who deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the engaging final result. By choosing to keep this production entirely conceptual in its presentation, she has allowed the story to shine through without being obfuscated by the details – props and settings are referred to but not mimed, nudity is mentioned to but not entirely shown, and British references are left in the dialogue without any kind of acknowledgement via accents.

This production is bound to divide opinion. The title suggests something more titillating than the script has in store, and characters are so supremely difficult to empathise with at moments, that by the time they show their softer sides some may be left disliking everyone on stage. However, the character archetypes displayed on stage are utterly recognisable and when combined with the strength of the performances shown here, go to creating a production that can leave you emotionally rumbled and thoroughly wrung out. This is a play for grown-ups full of grown up thinking (if the title didn’t already suggest that to you), so be ready to have your opinion piqued. 

 

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