Monday, 7 December 2009

Review: Cock

"Maybe you're the most complicated sexual being that ever existed"

Staged in the round upstairs at the Royal Court, inside a three tier plywood ring (which unfortunately put both me and my companion in mind of the set of Big Brother's Big Mouth), the provocatively named Cock is a play which is performed without artifice, without props, just remarkably intense acting and the suggestive power of movement. Ben Whishaw plays John, a gay man tumbling out of a long term relationship with an older man, M (Andrew Scott) and finding unexpected solace in the arms of a woman, W (Katherine Parkinson). What follows is a messy struggle as John finds himself conflicted, not just with his fluctuating sexuality but also with issues of identity and the nature of the relationship that he wants to pursue, whether that be with M or W.

As John, Whishaw is good here, frustratingly indecisive but charismatic enough to carry it off and Parkinson shows that her comic skills (as honed in Channel 4's The I.T. Crowd) are truly excellent, but also matched by an unnerving capacity for remaining still yet evoking a whole emotional world around her.
But it is Andrew Scott who should take no notice of Charles Spencer's lazy and borderline homophobic comments and rather focus on other reviews and the audience reaction to what is a brilliant performance as John's boyfriend. Taking complete ownership of the words and inhabiting them so fully, this was a convincing a display of acting as you will ever see, all the more impressive given the how exposing the set-up is. Manipulative, lovestruck, bitingly funny, this is a highly complex character but one who we connected with straightaway, even if we questioned his treatment of his younger lover, but Scott kept him touchingly vulnerable.

If I'm being honest, I found the arrival of a fourth character, the father of the boyfriend, somewhat intrusive and an unnecessary addition to this dysfunctional trifecta. Paul Jesson was good, and the dinner party scene was admittedly extremely funny, but dramatically I felt he served only as a distraction from the central relationships. And I did find it hard at times to credit the devotion displayed to John despite his overt selfishness, but on reflection I see now that this was part of Bartlett's intention: to show that we are all only human when faced with loss and that idealised, romanticised perfect partnerships are but a fiction.

Thought-provoking in content, and indeed in its staging, Cock was a real treat, and a great opportunity to witness some excellent acting, up close and incredibly personal. Transcending the predictable analysis of bisexuality this could have been and the traditional strictures of theatrical performances, this engages, exposes, questions and challenges the audience to think about what relationships should and could look like and how we treat those we profess to love. The Royal Court continues its run of excellent shows and the rest of London's theatres would do well to take note.


The run is now sold out and there are no day seats are available from the theatre, although you can contact the theatre to see about any last minute availability.

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