A play called Cock at Chichester's Minerva Theatre - review

Matthew Needham as M and Luke Thallon as John - Photo by The Other Richard
Matthew Needham as M and Luke Thallon as John - Photo by The Other Richard

Cock by Mike Bartlett, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, until October 27

Would you want to watch a play called Cock? Plenty of people don’t, judging by all the empty seats at tonight’s performance. Which is a shame. After its straight-through 90 minutes, you walk away suspecting that Mike Bartlett’s silly title has done the play a grave disservice.

It’s a play which takes plenty of getting into. It opens with a volley of f-words and then revels in its own crudity. You wonder whether someone somewhere has decided that it is time to broaden our hopelessly-provincial Chichester minds.

But then the wit takes over and so too does the tenderness behind all the anger, the frustration and the verbal jousting.

The gist is that John (Luke Thallon) is deeply in love with (though exasperated by) his boyfriend M (Matthew Needham). The trouble is that he has also fallen deeply in love with, you’ve guessed it, W (Isabella Laughland).

First John thrashes it out with M and then with W. It’s not until John, M and W converge for the dinner party from hell that the play truly takes off. Add in the surprise fourth character (beautifully played by Simon Chandler), and the play finally soars.

Luke Thallon is excellent, all boyish enthusiasm, bafflement and complete indecision; his excitement in his new relationship is beautifully done, as is his bond with the man he’s clearly been with for years.

Needham’s M is all bitterness, anger and a lacerating wit; Needham’s skill is that we warm to him every bit as much as we do John. Laughland completes the unusual triangle with a performance of common sense and sensitivity.

Between them, the characters draw you in powerfully – despite the obstacles their creator has stacked in their way.

Nicely, sparsely directed by Kate Hewitt.

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