Review: Cock, Minerva Theatre, Chichester

Matthew Needham as M and Luke Thallon as John  �The Other Richard
Matthew Needham as M and Luke Thallon as John �The Other Richard

From the play’s very title to its immediate machine gun assault on the audience with the rapid use of the f word, this is a production that is designed to shock.

But it says something for the public’s rapidly evolving attitudes to gender definition, that nine years after it first premiered this new rendition already has the whiff of a period piece.

Which doesn’t detract from its searingly honest humour, crafted so wickedly by writer Mike Bartlett. It just means that the audience can leap straight to the laughter without first having to overcome any predisposed aversion to the language or the themes.

On the contrary, the plot of a gay relationship rocked to its core by the realisation of one of the partners, John (superbly portrayed by Luke Thallon) that he prefers a woman (Isabella Laughland) seems almost simplistic in an age where sexual orientation has moved from the binary to something far more fluid.

For Chichester’s main festival season, there is little doubt that Cock is a departure. But it is as quaintly middle class like the audience it serves as it is extraordinary.

So as the two guys try to navigate a future for themselves inviting the woman in question to join them for dinner, it’s a meal construct complete with cheesecake that would not look out of place in any city home.

When one of the men (Matthew Needham) invites his father (Simon Chandler) round for moral support, dad does the decent thing and brings a bottle of red wine - explaining that it cost more than £7 so you can be certain it’s OK.

The play boasts of being a ‘searing exploration of the complexity of contemporary relationships’.

Maybe, but at its heart the key emotions are as old as the human race - control, lust versus need, and ultimately succumbing to what is easy rather than is necessarily right.

These are forces as potent in any heterosexual relationship as a gay one.

So the audience can identify. And laugh loudly. And cry at the end. They can salute the cast for a faultless performance and note with some respect that in choosing to revive this work artistic director Daniel Evans has not been nearly as reckless as the word Cock might first suggest.