Review: Lust for life

25 March 2016

by Joseph Winer

I had been looking forward to Cock ever since the festival productions were announced. Encouraged to read something by Mike Bartlett, I was drawn to it at Foyles bookshop in London about six months ago and got to reading straight away. In a way, the play is hardly original by using exploration of sexuality as a key theme. However, I believe Bartlett gives one of the most honest depictions of the confusions of sexuality ever seen on stage. 

John’s not sure what he is and has to decide whether to continue his relationship with a man, M (Owen Sparkes), or a woman, W (Dannie Harris). But is he gay? Straight? Bi? Or something else? Or does it even matter? They’re only labels after all.

Director, Jenny Walser, put four performers in an intimate, minimalistic setting. As the script asks, everything is stripped away, with the exception of a light hanging from the ceiling. The rules of Walser’s world of the play were perhaps unclear at times; a kiss was a kiss, whereas sex was taking off earrings and unbuttoning the top button of a shirt. However, I felt this eloquently portrayed the passion and lust within the relationships by making those few moments of physical touch completely unique and even more special.

When Sparkes and Holt-Bailey were on stage together, the tension was electric. With a powerful, sassy M delivered from the offset, it was curious to see where Sparkes could possibly journey to with a potential feeling that he reached his climactic state too quickly. Yet his ability to naturally explore the silences within the dialogue meant he was constantly compelling to watch, even as he left the stage and sat among the audience. Holt-Bailey dealt with the language ever so delicately, not only complimenting the cowardice of John’s nature but focusing the attention to his softly spoken words, supported by a sensual underpinning of breath.

In a play with such simplicities, boredom can be easily aroused. However, Walser’s production was so absorbing that it was impossible to distance myself from the space. Walser and the cast have created a magnetic window into the lives of Bartlett’s characters with a focus that was completely gripping from start to finish.  

Photo credit: Giulia Delprato