BWW Review: COCK at Circa Theatre is Honest, Awkward and Electrifying
At Circa Theatre, Wellington 12 October - 9 November 2019
Written by Mike Bartlett
Director: Shane Bosher
Theatre Company: Brilliant Adventures
Reviewed by Lindsey Rusling
In the English lexicon, there are many uses for the word "cock" with a myriad of meanings and Mike Bartlett covers them all in his acclaimed 2009 script currently playing at Circa Theatre, Wellington.
Ingeniously directed by Shane Bosher, the story follows John, a young man (Jack Buchanan) in a dilemma. While taking a break from his fractious, high-maintenance boyfriend "M" (Simon Leary), John meets and embarks on a sexual relationship with "W", the girl of his (heretofore unrealised) dreams (Karin McCracken) catapulting him into fraught indecision. Perhaps a meeting with both lovers (and "M''s father, Matt Chamberlain) over dinner will help to determine "what he is" and, therefore, who he will choose.
This play is a flashback/flashforward, edgy, bare-knuckle, verbal cockfight stripped back to basic staging in order to emphasise the juicy dialogue and ensure that the focus is on the drama - a modern, deconstructed comedy of manners that, despite some crude language, is not as salacious as its name might suggest.
The empty thrust stage with bright, white floor and backdrop, vividly lit in red or blue flashes to denote scene changes, supports the impression of a boxing ring with the added dramatic impact of a living set of avid spectators that draw the eye to the unrestrained reactions of fellow audience members.
Without furniture or props, the actors, are slickly choreographed; circling and prowling around the space with minimal action or gesture. Proxemics are considered throughout and each moment of distance or physical contact is saturated in significance. Intimacy is presented in an artistic, fully-clothed simulation that somehow intensifies the erotic aspect and reflects the beauty and complexity of raw, human attraction.
The frankness of the blistering dialogue as the lovers hurt each other as only they (or family) can and the realistically impassioned, awkward stutters and pauses as the characters struggle to communicate deep feelings are powerfully instrumental in creating stunningly palpable tension and comedy. Buchanan, in particular, exemplifies this effort and the audience, along with "M" and "W" is left tearing hair out on the edge of their seats waiting for his decision as he strives to articulate his state of mind.
The cast brilliantly present beautifully flawed, heartfelt characters and emotionally charged relationships. Leary is flamboyant, posturing and manipulative, excelling in tirades that pick John apart for every perceived fault or weakness while imbuing "M" with enough vulnerability and insecurity to suggest his attitude is driven by an unhealthy dose of self-loathing. Leary is ably supported by Chamberlain who creates a truthful portrayal of a supportive Dad who wants the best for his son but can't quite relate to the situation.
McCracken brings determination, fearlessness, command and patience as she gently tries to convince John, without pressuring him, to follow the straight path. (Her dressing down of "F" and his unconsciously ingrained misogyny gained whoops of delight on opening night.)
It is, however, Buchanan that enthrals. John doesn't know what he wants (or simply cannot voice it) and his frustration is plain to see. Buchanan creates a physically seething cauldron of emotion. His pain, distress and wonder are performed with an exquisite clarity that keeps us riveted for the full 90 minutes.
This play is a funny, sharp, provocative and thought-provoking social commentary. Is it about sexual identity, labels in general, choice, relationships, following your heart, respect or simply falling in love with a person regardless of gender?
An electrifying, must-see production that the English might say is "cock on!"
Photo Credit: Tabitha Arthur