Review: Cock, by Stooged Theatre. Packs a punch in today's world

Cock: Benjamin Louttit (John) and Elise Bialek (W). Picture: Stewart Hazell
Cock: Benjamin Louttit (John) and Elise Bialek (W). Picture: Stewart Hazell

Cock, Stooged Theatre Company, November 9. Show runs through November 19.

Cock opens a window into the emotional and sexual dimensions of intimate relationships.

From an interview in June 2012 with playwright Mike Bartlett with BBC Radio 3, we know that Bartlett began writing the play when he was on residency in Mexico City for one month, and teaching playwriting in the afternoon. His mornings were free to sit in the bright sunlight of a café in what was known as a gay area of Mexico City, where he began to write dialogue. ‘The dialogue became the play’. Bartlett has told us this context, and it is important − the play was created in a catholic city, when people were questioning sexuality. Bartlett’s play is written through dialogue. ‘The characters start talking and you don’t know where they are or who they are – they just start talking’.

Stooged Theatre’s production of Cock directed by Matthew Lee is faithful to Barlett’s vision – ‘two characters start talking, they are in a relationship, and both are men. One of them is having a problem in the relationship’. The audience has no indication where we are – country, time, or room of a house. A bare stage over one of clutter works very well in this production, and can be all that is needed for theatre −this is the way the playwright intended. However, it was hard to gauge the distinct vision of this particular production. I attended the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Cock in 2014 directed by Leticia Caceref, which had a clear design and metaphor for the audience.

Before the play begins, the audience arrives to a small and empty stage, softened by amber-like lighting, and the sense of anything could unfold in this space. The lighting design fittingly moves the audience through the edges of the relationships and the conundrum of John – the arguments, build of tension, signaling change of characters. Elese Murray’s lighting steers the audience through the complex narrative, and with ease.

Lee’s stylistic choices ask the audience to imagine a character undressing, and a couple having sex for the first time. This stylistic choice got in the way at times. After all, the stage was naked throughout. M (‘Man’) could peel off a layer, and let us inside his difficult character.

Benjamin Louttit breathes empathy into John, and is one to watch. M is played as unlikeable, whinging, and prone to yell suddenly, by Drew Holmes. M seems to settle down a bit when dad arrives. Elise Bialek is believable in strength, vulnerability and perceptiveness of W (‘Woman’). The character’s names matter less, than the problems faced by John.

A stark and empty stage provides endless possibilities for where the actors could be, yet there were a few key moments where it was puzzling why actors were at the back of the stage or away from the audience, and it was harder to examine their inner torment and share in the overwhelm of John’s anxiety in critical monologues –at what he is supposed to be, and no longer makes sense.

An overpowering moment in the play that I was completely unprepared for was the drama and peak demise of both relationships unfolding over dinner, and acutely realised when W convincingly points out to F (‘Father’) – played as the no-nonsense voice of the older generation by a skillful Alan Glover – that misogyny is always misrecognised by the misogynist when inflicted upon others. Through this relationship between drama and reality, Lee and Bialek are showing us the world now in light of the calling out sexual harassment and flood of Weinstein allegations. W’s comment on unequal power, on the truth of meaning of predatory looks, while the others are focused on the relationship between men, packs a punch and is much to Bialek’s credit. This is the power of a good performance

(Sheree Gregory is an academic currently researching working life in the creative industries.)