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Review: COCK at Holden Street Theatres

Review: COCK at Holden Street Theatres

A very different kind of love story.

Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, Wednesday 30th November 2022.

Even at a preview, with a well-rehearsed understudy in a principal role, Mike Bartlett's Cock, at Holden Street, as handled by Darrin Redgate, goes a long way beyond cheap innuendo. If your boyfriend has left you for a woman he's just met, and that does happen, or the issues of emotional responsibility, or even the almost operatic potential of the crisis, grab at your thoughts, you should see this. Finely done, indeed, thanks.

My initial Facebook response still stands and just requires a little amplification.

Boy meets girl, even before Adam encountered Eve in the garden of Eden, and all that led to, has been the starting point of almost every comedy, tragedy, and farce, in theatre and in real life. Mike Bartlett adds another twist to this bittersweet story.

Let's face it, c*ckis a more confronting, headline-grabbing, title than, for example, Four Characters in Search of a Resolution.

Darrin Redgate has a text which requires no sets or props, and places the four actors in a sand pit, boxing ring, circus ring or that standby of Elizabethan entertainment, the cockpit. A bell chimes to mark the rounds. Your attention is always on the people. It is, at times, hilariously funny and the sex scene, as John discovers heterosexual activity, is both tender and moving. It's also done with the two actors fully dressed, speaking from opposite sides of the ring.

The c*ckof the title belongs to John. In his university days, it pointed him toward sex with men, an identity as gay, applauded and embraced by his mates. It gave him a place and a purpose. Now it's pointing him in another direction. Into this new world, he heads, leaving behind a number of bewildered individuals who feel betrayed by his new quest. Stephen Schofield catches every moment of his confusion in word and gesture. He's drop-dead gorgeous arm candy in the gay world, where appearance is so important. As he wakes up to sexual and social diversity, he glows. He almost sings his fascination with female genitals. "O brave new world that has such people in it. 'Tis new to you."

Only John has a name. He has an unspecified job. His partner of some years, a city finance broker, and certainly the wealthier of the two, is only M. M's father is F. The woman John wants is W. They are not cyphers. Each of them has a distinct identity and a whole life of needs brought to the conflict. Each of the actors brings this to life so convincingly that the play is so much more than a game of hearts. David Daradan is first-rate as M, suave and successful, whose love for John goes beyond the mere trophy status of having a younger, gorgeous, and dependent boyfriend. James McCluskey-Garcia as F, has come to terms with his son's relationship with John, and now feels his son's confusion as his own, and an assault on his family, into which John had been welcomed.

W is as desperate for John as he is for her. They both want children, a home together, Christmas dinners with the family, and all that domestic bliss and responsibility entail. Stefanie Rossi was originally cast as W, but withdrew from the first week, with Maya Carey taking on the role. As I mentioned earlier, had I not known, I would not have guessed. W is a young woman, single with a job in the city, and the sudden possibility of this gorgeous man being hers opens a world of possibilities that will be ripped away from her, cruelly. I bow to nobody in my admiration for Stefanie Rossi, but she could have so easily made it her play, and not John's. Her natural charisma is so strong. If she returns to the role, I'll see it again. I'll see it again anyway.

The final moments do not resolve. W has gone, her own insecurities removed from John's conscience. M makes him the offer to return. "Switch off the lights and bring in the cushions".

Domestic order is restored but, as John looks out, I thought of Ibsen. Is he like Norah, leaving the well-appointed Dolls House, or will he take a Hedda over the balcony? He will hurt a few more people before he can stand confident in his own nature. No, that should be, more people will be hurt by him in his way ahead. Trust me on this.

For further study track down Sunday, Bloody Sunday. It's not a 'slasher flick', but John Schlesinger's movie is a really poignant story in which Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch are both in love with a self-centred sculptor, Murray Head. You just know they'd be better off with each other. It also contains one of the great lines in all movies, and you'll know it the minute you hear it. There's also Uncoupled, in which Neil Patrick Harris, soon to be in a Dr Who near you, plays a really whiney bitch.

Photography, Rebekah Ryan.



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