Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 3 – Mar 6, 2015
Playwright: Mike Bartlett
Director: Shane Bosher
Cast: Brian Meegan, Matt Minto, Matilda Ridgway, Michael Whalley
Image by Tim Levy
John is caught between a man and a woman. These relationships cannot co-exist, because the three people believe that the nature of love is monogamous, and more than that, love requires resolute sexual identities. Mike Bartlett’s Cock is essentially a play for the post-gay era. It makes us look at the boundaries and definitions that have come to rule our lives, and to consider their arbitrariness despite their unadulterated and pervasive presence. John has to decide if he is gay or straight, and as the pressure escalates, we become increasingly aware of the absurdity of his circumstance. There are few things in the LGBT world more controversial and dangerous than saying that sexuality and gender are choices that can be made by conscious adults. Cock makes reference to the need for manufactured concepts that serve political purposes, which may not be legitimately applicable to all individuals that they try to protect, and would disintegrate when its purpose is served. Of course, we can understand that no one would choose to be gay in a world that discriminates and persecutes those who deviate from heteronormativity, but if society has progressed far enough, then maybe making a conscious choice to become the “other” is no longer a threatening proposition (if the “other” can still exist in that progressive civilisation). What is discussed in Cock suggests the redundancy of sexuality labels in how we live, even how we love.
Shane Bosher’s direction strips the production of all sets and props. The actors do not make any costume changes, so all they have are words and ideas, bodies and space. The theatre-in-the-round configuration encourages constant movement, and coupled with scenes of incessant fight and struggle, the atmosphere is often electric. Bartlett’s writing is energetic and bold, with humour and drama bulging at the seams, but it is clear that Bosher’s affinity with the play’s graver portions is stronger. Tension on this stage is omnipresent, but jokes are hit and miss. The leading men give exciting performances but lack the versatility to flow persuasively between the light and dark of the writing.
Michael Whalley is John, the young man stuck in a state of confusion. Whalley embodies the frustration and weakness of his character with great clarity, and the play’s difficult themes find a surprising resonance through his performance, but John needs to be more affable in order for the dramatics to have greater efficacy. John’s male lover is played by Matt Minto, who is delightfully flamboyant, but repetitively so. The character is a stubborn one, and we eventually grow tired of his unchanging voice and mannerisms. Conversely, the female lover shows a great range of intellectual and emotional states, and those transformations make Matilda Ridgway’s performance a gripping one. She finds authenticity in a script that is more conceptual than real, and creates the only character we are able to empathise with, even though we are baffled by her devotion to John, the non-hero. Brian Meegan is a last minute replacement for the male lover’s father, so it is entirely understandable that he is yet to have all his lines down, but he does a superb job in later scenes to consolidate the play’s plot and philosophy.
LGBT communities in the West have invested decades to create cultures and identities, in order that oppression may be resisted and subverted. Once those objectives are fulfilled, however, a new stage of evolution will commence. In Australia, that time has not yet come, so John will continue to be forced into conceding an invariable sexual preference, whether it rings true to his personal experiences, or not.