Theatre | Complicated cock-up | Ken Longworth

AWKWARD: John, the central character in Cock, is caught between two loves. The play will be staged by Newcastle’s Stooged Theatre next month.
AWKWARD: John, the central character in Cock, is caught between two loves. The play will be staged by Newcastle’s Stooged Theatre next month.

ENGLISH playwright Mike Bartlett got the idea for writing a play called Cock while watching in Mexico a cock fight, with creatures trying to tear each other to pieces under the gaze of an eager watching crowd.

It set him thinking about the way people can behave when they are together and trying to justify changes to their relationships.

The central character is John, a gay man who has been living with his male partner, here called M, for 10 years. John sees the relationship as falling apart, and takes a break. He meets a female school classroom assistant (known as W) and begins an affair with her. But John is worried about M’s outraged reaction to his departure, and goes back to him. However, John’s continuing affection for W leads to the three of them meeting for dinner to discuss their situations, with M’s aggressive father (F) also in attendance.

Cock, which premiered in London in 2009, and won an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Independent Theatre, has also been a hit in seasons in New York, Melbourne and Sydney, and is being staged by Newcastle’s Stooged Theatre in the Royal Exchange from November 9. The play was written for performance in an intimate venue and with no set.      

Benjamin Louttit plays John, with Drew Holmes as M, Elise Bialek as W, and Alan Glover as F. Matthew Lee directs.

Lee notes that while some people see the title as being a reference to a male appendage, the play looks at different meanings of the word “cock”.

“Drew’s character, M, cocks things up,” he said. “And there are references to people telling cock and bull stories and assertions that some are telling a load of cock by lying.”

Lee also points to the fact that John has lied to people. “But it’s not out of malice. He wants everyone to be happy. And both his relationships are close ones.” Benjamin Louttit adds that John is trying to rationalise the decisions he has made.

Elise Bialek said that F doesn’t realise initially what the situation is with John, and has to work out where she fits into his relationships. Alan Glover points to M’s father wanting to see his son settle back into a relationship and attends the dinner to assert that he has made the best choice for M’s future.

Mike Bartlett’s other plays include Love, Love, Love, which was staged last year by Newcastle Theatre Company, and King Charles III, a hit when presented with its London cast in Sydney last year.

Cock has performances at the Royal Exchange on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, at 7.30pm, from November 9 to 18, plus 5pm Sunday shows on November 12 and 19, and a 7.30pm show on November 15. Tickets: $30, conc. $25; trybooking.com..