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Cock review at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow – ‘bracing’

Isobel McArthur and James Anthony-Pearson in Cock at Tron Theatre, Glasgow Isobel McArthur and James Anthony-Pearson in Cock at Tron Theatre, Glasgow
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Mike Bartlett’s Cock is a bracing deconstruction of sexual identity and the awkwardness of desire. With a script that delves into the subconscious thoughts of John (James Anthony Pearson) and his lovers M (Johnny McKnight) and W (Isobel McArthur) – the dialogue is far from naturalistic – and four strong performances, Andy Arnold’s production – its first production since the Royal Court’s première in 2009 – presents a cold examination of how violent passions distort logic and undermine happiness even as they promise it.

Performed on a bare stage, with the characters describing rather then performing their interactions, Cock draws attention to its theatricality. A sex scene between John and W has the twosome standing side by side, each making comments that would kill any intimacy. Yet in rejecting a simple imitation of human interactions, Arnold’s direction emphasises the underlying conflicts and tensions in Bartlett’s script, turning theatricality into an extended argument about biology and emotional aspirations.

The physical theatre interludes – which are clumsy and simplistically symbolic of the characters’ emotional confusion – add to the detached atmosphere. Arnold’s enthusiasm for precise writing that cuts to the heart of existential trauma, as with his productions of Beckett, is manifested in a sparse direction and symbolic blocking. On occasion, this causes problems with audibility as actors end up with their backs to the audience but it does clarify the shifting alliances and intimacies between the characters.

Somewhere between a dark mirror of contemporary relationships and a more abstract argument about the problems caused when love and emotional immaturity collide, Cock troubles notions of naturalism in theatre and the complacency of a society that imagines it has matured.

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Verdict
Spare, strongly performed revival which continually draws attention to its theatricality
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