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Cock review at Minerva Theatre, Chichester – ‘savagely funny’

Matthew Needham and Luke Thallon in Cock at Minerva Theatre, Chichester. Photo: The Other Richard
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This revival of Mike Bartlett’s Cock shows it to be even more relevant now than when it was first staged at the Royal Court in 2009. An examination of 21st-century sexual fluidity, this concise and punchy drama revolves around a love triangle in which John is seemingly unable to decide between his male and female lovers, or “what” he is, gay or straight: “I suppose I like both.”

After being in a relationship with M (Man) for seven years, for the first time John has sex with a woman (W), yet he does not want to pigeon-hole himself as bisexual. He is confused about his sexual identity, but is his rejection of labels a sign of independence or an aversion to commitment in a relationship?

In what is not so much a cockfight as “the ultimate bitch fight”, M and W vie with each other for John’s affections at an intensely awkward dinner party, joined by M’s father (F) who goes into battle on behalf of his son.

Bartlett’s savagely funny play strips down the competing relationships to visceral emotions, indicated by the archetypal use of initials for characters’ names.

Kate Hewitt’s raw, dynamic, in-the-round production on a bare stage encircled by a polygonal line suggests an arena for combat, with quick scene changes indicated only by a flash of red lighting.

Luke Thallon plays John with vacillating, soft-edged charm, both malleable and manipulative, playing off one lover against the other without knowing what he wants. Matthew Needham superbly conveys both M’s controlling possessiveness and his painful insecurity glimpsed through histrionic outbursts, while Isabella Laughland gives W a sexual frankness. And Simon Chandler’s amusingly combative F tries but fails to get John to make a binary decision in favour of his son.

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Verdict
Revival of Mike Bartlett's savagely funny portrait of sexual fluidity and modern relationships
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