Something to crow about

Sofie Ross (W), Tony Rickards (F), Angus Grant (M) and Tom Conroy as John

Sofie Ross (W), Tony Rickards (F), Angus Grant (M) and Tom Conroy as John. Image by Jeff Busby.

Review by Penny Mulvey

Cock by English playwright Mike Bartlett, is the latest offering by the Melbourne Theatre Company. No, it’s not about chickens and yes, it is a provocative title, which could put some theatre goers off. However, if you are not concerned about the regular use of the ‘F’ word, Cock is a fast paced, entertaining and confronting look at love, sex and relationships.

The main character, John, is at one point described as lanky, as though he is a wire frame that has not been coloured in. This is the central thesis of the play.

In a brilliant touch of irony John, the only character named, is somehow the least substantial.

He doesn’t know who he is, therefore becoming whatever the person he is with wants him to be. My father would have described him as someone who blows with the wind.

Victorian College of the Arts graduate, Tom Conroy, captures the nuances of John’s personality brilliantly. He can be endearing puppy, bumbling vague helpless male, provocative gay lover, wide eyed homosexual tantalisingly exploring the ‘forbidden’ sexual act with a woman.

His uncertainty can be seen as both a manipulation and as a person paralysed by his own indecision. John says of himself, “I don’t have a character like everyone else. I don’t feel like that”. And there lies the dilemma for those who love him.

How do we relate to someone who promises so much to us, but when with another will become what that person wants and desires?
Bartlett believes the inability to pin down a character makes for great drama. He told theatre “If they don’t know the limits of what they can do or say, then anything can happen within the play.”

Conroy is ably supported by Angus Grant, his older, clever, caustic lover (M), Sophie Ross as the woman (W) who introduces him to a new world of heterosexual sex (“a bit like having water when you really want a beer”) and, in a breathtaking final showdown, Tony Rickards, as M’s father (F).

In amongst the speed of delivery, the intimacy and malice of love, and the unusual love triangle, Bartlett confronts the audience to consider our own carefully constructed view of ourselves.

What happens if we were all a bit like John?

Why do we, like M and W and F, want others to conform to our view of them?

By the removal of all artefacts – props, sets or costumes –it is just us and the actors. We can laugh it off or we can ask ourselves if we all have a little bit of John within us.

Cock by Mike Bartlett, at the Arts Centre Melbourne to 22 March

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