Cock | Melbourne Theatre CompanyLeft – Angus Grant and Tom Conroy. Photo – Jeff Busby

The stuff of the play is not quite as gritty as the title suggests. The issues dealt with are not quite as confronting as you might expect, nor is the execution quite as raw as you might expect. But it is still a thoroughly satisfying piece of theatre.

The story revolves around John (Tom Conroy) and his inability to decide between his long term lover (Angus Grant) and new and first-time heterosexual love (Sophie Ross). These other two points in this love triangle are not referred to by name in the play. They are unwitting enemies in this drama, as well as victims, of sort. They desperately want John to make his mind up as to who will be the victor and claim his love as theirs, but frustratingly he is utterly incapable of doing this, creating a palpable tension. I doubt that I was the only one in the audience who wanted to go down there onto the stage, smack John about the head and tell him to grow up and stop fucking about with other people's lives.

The main issue appears to be the question of sexual persuasion. John has always been gay, has been in a long term relationship with a male, but has now fallen in love and lust with a woman. The question appears to be (and indeed is asked) what are you? Are you gay or are you straight? Or are you bisexual. But the more we get to know John, the more the question seems to be who are you. Ostensibly it's about sexual orientation, but scratch a little deeper and it all seemed to be dealing with a deeper question of love and identity than simply sexuality. The frustration expressed by the opponents in this tug-o-war, as strong as it is, is overshadowed by the frustration the character John clearly feels but is incapable of dealing with. We share this frustration, but if you watch and listen and have empathy, you will feel as sorry for John as you do for his competing lovers. Yes John is hopeless and apparently selfish, but at the same time he is just as much a consequence of circumstance as the others, in the same way that sufferers of depression are often unable to get out of their rut.

If all of this sounds a bit earnest (it is a thought-provoking play), it should be mentioned that this is a very funny script. It's proper, laugh-out-loud funny. All four performers (John's male partner's father, comes along to a farcical dinner party where all the characters do battle) did justice to a very well crafted script. It reels you in with its bitchy, scathing dialogue, then lays the serious issues out before you. Laughs give way to lumps in the throat.

Certain scenes felt a little cheesy – such as the playful pillow shifting scenes – and the relationship between John and his female lover felt a little rushed in its development, but overall the characters were convincing, even if we don't care all that much about them. In fact, take out the humour and this probably wouldn't be any good at all.

Much has been made of the Missy Higgins soundtrack, and while it was nice enough throughout the play, it was really no better or worse than you'd expect from any professional theatrical production. The closing track appeared to be the big one but the actors came out too soon after the lights went down to take their bows, just as the track started, and it was completely drowned out by applause. The last scene was so lingering that surely it could have faded as the music came in so that we could hear some of it.

All in all, I enjoyed this production a lot. Very funny but ultimately a little weightier than the humour might lead you to believe... just not as confronting as the title suggests.


Melbourne Theatre Company presents
Cock
by Mike Bartlett

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio
Dates: 7 February – 22 March 2014
Tickets: from $58, Under 30s $33
Bookings: 03 8688 0800 | mtc.com.au
 
Queensland dates: 27 March – 12 April 2014 @ La Boite Theatre