Review: Cock, Ambassadors Theatre

If some of the detail of Mike Bartlett’s Cock now feels a little dated, the skill of his writing is as fresh as ever, performed brilliantly by Taron Egerton and Jonathan Bailey at the Ambassadors Theatre

“The fact is that some of us like women and some like men and that’s fine that’s good in fact that’s good, a good thing, but it seems to me that you’ve become confused”

There’s a slight smugness that comes with being one of the ones who got to see the original cast of Mike Bartlett’s 2009 play Cock. In the intimacy of the Royal Court Upstairs transformed by Miriam Buether’s playful design, Ben Whishaw, Andrew Scott, Katherine Parkinson and Paul Jesson knocked it out of the park with a ferocious intensity. Bartlett’s stock as a writer has since soared and the play has been a popular one (Chichester revived it and I caught a US production online last year) and now it arrives in the West End for a starry run.

The play centres on John, a man who has spent the last seven years in a relationship with a guy, but who now finds himself enjoying a dalliance with a woman after a flirtatious encounter on his commute. What does his first sexual relationship with a woman mean for his sexuality? Has he moved from gay to bisexual? Do labels matter? And as John tries to figure out his new situation, we see what really does matter is untangling the relationships in his life, his indecision endlessly complicating matters for his pretty little heart.

And as it is the marvellous Jonathan Bailey playing John, it is a pretty one indeed. Marianne Elliott’s production here is brilliantly cast by Charlotte Sutton, nabbing the scorching hot Bridgerton star and tempting Taron Edgerton back onstage (now an established film star after modelling his swimming trunks so well back in The Last of the Haussmans), whilst bolstering the company with quality in the exciting Jade Anouka and the reliable Phil Daniels. The result may have been eye-wincing ticket prices but this is a powerful revival of this punchy play.

In the thirteen years since the play’s debut, the conversation about sexual fluidity has moved on considerably as the LGBT+ spectrum offers so much self-definition. But even as the talk of labels might feel a little dated, it’s worth remembering how individual everyone’s sexual identity – and the journey to discovering it – is. And Bartlett is so incisive about the difficulties that can encompass, especially once you draw others so deeply into your own orbit. The excellent Bailey remains onstage throughout as he wavers between his lovers and Anouka and Egerton both really impress as they strive for clarity from the man they both want. 

Daniels also gets to make a real impact as the father of Egerton’s character, a crucial dinner party stinging with its truthbombs. For myself, I’m not sure the moments of stylised movement introduced by Elliott are strictly necessary and as effective as the confines of Merle Hensel’s metallic design are, a little of the intensity of the writing dissipates on this larger stage. But as an introduction to the play, it delivers in spades, you just need to avoid those annoying types who keep harking back to the Royal Court 😉

Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Brinkhoff/Möegenburg
Cock is booking at the Ambassadors Theatre until 4th June

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