Review: Cock, Studio Theatre online

Streaming allows to me take in a transatlantic version of Mike Bartlett’s Cock, starring Queer as Folk’s Randy Harrison

“You want your boyfriend’s help with the woman you’re sleeping with?”

The subject matter of Mike Bartlett’s Cock is one which has proved satisfyingly timeless, at least over the last decade but in a socially distanced age, it turns out that its form has also future-proofed it. Though it has four characters that interact, its focus on verbal interplay rather than physical shenanigans allies itself with the manipulations needed for COVID-19 protocols much more than other plays.  

And having mounted an award-winning production of the play for Washington DC’s Studio Theatre in 2014, director David Muse has returned to it to launch the theatre’s debut online season. The result is a finely tuned hybrid of film and theatre that slots well into the now-global pandemic programming and as mentioned, Bartlett’s exploration of sexual fluidity remains as pointedly pertinent as ever, particularly in how it refracts through our relationships.

Muse’s adaptation of his direction works well at exploiting the possibilities that spring from Wes Culwell’s video direction. Split-screen work is utilised interestingly (that kiss!), intense close-ups mix in with overhead shots and at times, the camera just prowls around the actors with a near-voyeuristic glee, reinforcing the sense of stage as battlefield (or in this case rope-lined wrestling ring) that lies at the heart of most of the encounters in the play.

Randy Harrison (Justin from the US remake of Queer as Folk) gives an excellent account of John, a man who is exploring his sexuality in real time. Fresh out of a long-term relationship with a man (a superbly bitter and brittle Scott Parkinson), he starts sleeping with a woman (Kathryn Tkel) but as those connections overlap messily, Harrison makes us appreciate just how keenly the uncertainty around his identity is felt and how brutal that can be when you’re on the other side of it. 

Running time 100 minutes (without interval)
Cock is streaming via Studio Theatre until 25th April 

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