Review: A little stiffy

20 March 2016

by Tom Bulpett

Cock. It’s certainly a hard play to get right. Full to the brim with salty wit. And a climax that can get really messy.

OK, I’ll stop now… I’m sorry, I have the wit of a high schooler. I just had to get that out of my system or this review would just be a list of dick puns. Moving on.

Mike Bartlett’s explicitly titled play tells the story of John, a young man struggling with his own sexual identity, desperately trying to choose between his snide long-term boyfriend and strong-willed female lover. The interactions between these characters are fast paced, witty and delve into the complexities of human sexuality and identity, ultimately questioning the labels we place on people and challenging the strict binary-based view of sexuality.

Jenny Walser and her team from Durham University bring a faithful adaption of Bartlett’s play to NSDF this year, maintaining a similar style to the original 2009 production. Walser’s adaption in fact borrows several elements from the original production, including the minimalist use of set and an electronic pinging noise to signify specific scene changes. These are implemented well, with the limited set consisting of several scatter cushions, colourful throws and a lone IKEA Boule Japonaise lamp shade effectively establishing the comfortable middle-class household as a setting.

The scene changes throughout the show are particularly impressive considering the actors never leave the stage. This can often be a problematic and confusing choice for audience members but Walser and the cast master it perfectly, with a subtle shift in energy and small lighting adjustment effectively conveying a change in a nuanced way.

The performances throughout the show are capable, if a little stiff and low energy at times, which unfortunately takes some of the emotional weight out of the climactic scenes; although perhaps some of this was due to the difficulties of having to arrive, set up and perform on the same day. For anyone who has done it before, you know it can be a very draining experience. Credit must be given to Theo Holt-Bailey who, although is a little stiff at times, beautifully portrays the indecision and crisis that John is struggling through for the duration of the play. Owen Sparkes’ comic timing is also on point and provides most of the laughs throughout the show.

Perhaps my biggest problem with Walser’s production is her use of staging. The blocking throughout the show is lacking, with several scenes turning into a static tennis match, thanks to actors being stood in opposite corners of the stage. Although this works in some instances, such as the sex scenes, it often feels lazy and is uninteresting to watch. This also contributes to the lack of energy in some scenes, making them a struggle to get through at points.

Overall, Cock is a satisfying production with plenty of laughs and interesting questions, even if it falls flaccid at times. (I couldn’t resist one last dick joke).

Photo credit: Giulia Delprato