Cock: Reviewed

Commenting on society’s unnatural desire to categorise sexuality instead of accepting its apparent fluidity, while exploring the struggle to know oneself in a world obsessed with labels, the recent Wanton Theatre and Saints LGBT+ production of Cock was a resounding success. Revolving around the conflict that arises when its central character, John (Tom Giles), is torn between his long time boyfriend (Angus Russell) and a new, female, romantic interest (Anoushka Kohli), Cock proved to be a brilliantly fast-paced and witty show driven by complex characters.

Directors Joanna Bowman and Jared Liebmiller once again proves that it takes intellect, as well as theatrical awareness, to direct a play – taking notes from the second London staging of the play, setting it in the round and turning the stage into a cock-fighting ring. Apart from its centrality to the publicity, and the ringing of a ‘feeding’ bell to separate scenes, this interpretation wasn’t developed much further, but it was enough to leave the audience with even more to think about.

The word ‘mime’ so often carries negative connotations in theatre, but the show’s creative team re-interpreted the idea in an interesting way, and it worked. Absolutely no props were used, despite the requirement of a full beef dinner amongst other things: instead the actors used eye contact and intonation to illustrate the presence of physical items. On a similar note, the scenes where characters were undressed, most notably the ‘sex scene’ between Giles’ and Kohli’s characters, were brilliantly done as the actors toyed with pause and facial reactions instead of physicality, maintaining their distance (and clothing) with no loss to the play’s striking realism.

This high standard of acting was not exclusive to these scenes. Generally, the intimate cast of four made naturalistic acting look easy. Daniel Jonusas settled with ease into the role of a politically correct but subtly homophobic father, playing on the stereotypical ‘ignorance of older generations’ with expert use of vocal delivery. For the most part, Russell executed the whiny, self-centred role of John’s boyfriend well, although at times he took the sarcastic comedy a little too far. Kohli struck the perfect balance between biting sarcasm and a more serious, sad woman, understanding of John’s difficult decision but desperate to save the relationship. Ultimately, though, Tom Giles stole the show. Portraying John as frustrated, anxious and slightly autistic, he gave his audience no option but to fall in love with the character and our empathy was with him throughout. Faced with quick, snappy dialogue and some extreme peaks and troughs in mood, the actors had a challenge – but they all lived up to it.

Cock is a play which is easy to love, but hard to get right. Bowman, Liebmiller and their cast and crew successfully brought the show to life in an evening of great, great theatre.

5/5 Owlies

*This show was a joint production between Wanton Theatre and Saints LGBT+

** Correction: An earlier version of this review did not mention the involvement of Jared Liebmiller as co-director. This has been corrected.

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