21 February 2014

Review: Cock

Cock
MTC
13 February 2013
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 22 March
mtc.com.au


Cock immediately demands attention and begs for jokes that are too easy. Yes, this Cock satisfies and I'd go for the ride again. Now let's move on.

First seen in 2009, the title of UK writer Mike Bartlett’s play brings expectations before a word is spoken. Some are met and more are dismissed as far more than cock comes to play.

Twenty-something John has been with his partner for seven years. On what seems to be a regular break, he meets someone else and falls in love. What causes the most shock for the scorned partner is that John’s new love is a woman. With a definite assumption that a choice must be made between the two and that John must define himself by the gender of his lover (as declared by the father who  comes to dinner), the tug of love is on.

While trying to make gender a non-issue in love, Bartlett’s writing dips (and occasionally plunges) into the stereotypes it’s trying to avoid: girly woman want romance in Paris and babies, gay men act like girls. But this is what makes this work so engaging. With neither lover being likeable enough to care who wins John (who’s neither a cock nor cocky), it forces its audience to question what’s going on rather than cheer for a winner and a happy ending.

But enough of the writing. It’s always great to see good newish writing on our commercial stages, but it’s more exciting to see new realisations of these works.

Leticia Caceres’s direction is exquisite and she’s created a production very different from the ones that brought attention to this play. She lets her actors (Tom Conroy, Angus Grant, Sophie Ross and Tony Rickards) bring themselves to their characters as she deftly controls the dark humour to build the so-awkward tension to its inevitable breathless breaking point. And she works with her co-creators to make something that Bartlett may never have imagined as he wrote it.

There’s Missy Higgins’s original music adding the emotional pull that’s not in the script, but it’s Marg Howell’s design (with Rachel Burke’s lighting) that brings so much to the stage and invents a world far from the propless bare stage asked for in the script. The Fairfax’s semi-circle stage is covered with huge white pillows that highlight the brightly mis-matched costumes while looking part-giant-bed and part-padded-cell. It makes for unstable ground that, as they are moved, support and cover, become walls, define arenas and continue to confirm that Howell is one of the best designers on Earth.

Cock's not as confronting, and more conservative, than as its title implies. All puns intended, it’s a softer, more gentle and far funnier work, which might have been a very different play if it weren’t called Cock.


Photo by Jeff Busby.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

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