Some Cock after dinner?

By Laurie Scarborough

Cock, written by Mike Bartlett, has been showing at the Alexander Bar Theatre over the past month. The play features four actors and follows John through a confusing identity crisis.

John, played by Francis Chouler, is in an unhappy relationship with his long-time boyfriend (Matt Newman), who he realises is fundamentally different to him. Being unable to reconcile these differences, he decides they should be apart. I say decides, but this is too strong a word here, because although John knows he is unhappy, he really doesn’t know much else. John is ironically the only character who is named in the play. He is confused about his relationship, but also about who he is and what he wants, while the rest of the play’s characters remain nameless, yet self-aware.

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Matt Newman and Francis Chouler in Cock at the Alexander Bar Theatre.

It turns out John is also confused about who he wants. After his break-up, he meets a woman (Melissa Haiden) and they start what seems like a happy and fulfilling relationship. But John, confused by this heterosexual relationship, seeks help from his now ex-boyfriend. Things are complicated further when they start things up again and his beau decides the three parties should meet and discuss how to proceed.

Francis Chouler and Melissa Haiden, both represented by Samantha Bernhardi, star in Cock this month.

What ensues is a chaotic dinner party where the woman and the man (and the man’s father, played by James Skilton) fight for John. They pace around John, who is pulled down further and further by confusion and despair. They all make decisions around him, and in the end, when he is forced to decide for himself, he does not know how.

Bartlett’s script is tight and full. There are many shades of humour, which is especially brought through by the biting sarcasm of Newman during the dinner party scene. This humour is well-placed between otherwise dramatic scenes.

Haiden also brings a very convincing groundedness to the play, portraying her character with refreshing honesty and openness. This contrasts Newman’s character who is full of alternating excited and angry energy.

Chouler’s John is magnetic, and your eye follows him around the small stage throughout the play. He is the first character on the stage, and the last off, so this integral character was well cast.

The piece questions the usefulness of naming your identity. Does it help to call someone gay or straight? Does it matter “what” a person loves, male or female, rather than “who” a person loves? Does knowing who you are change who you are?

Under Paul Griffiths’ direction, the play is cleverly choreographed around the lone white block which is the only prop used for the duration of the play. The actors weave their stories behind, in front, and over the white block.

The stage is surrounded by the audience from three sides, pulling them into the story, and in the intimate space, this certainly adds to the drama of the play.

The show runs from 22nd-25th June, and tickets can be booked here.

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