Cock is tense. It is beautiful, jarringly intimate, and phenomenally crafted. It’s also completely heartbreaking.
Circa One’s set (designed by Sean Lynch) inspires thoughts of a boxing ring, or a fashion show – in the round, with bright lights cast down onto a white floor below. The audience sits on three sides; I view the play straight on.
Our actors stand out in stark contrast to the landscape. There are no props in this show, no built up set, no costume changes. All written nudity is clothed, all spicy scenes done with very little physical touching, and mostly with words. It’s a fascinating form of intimacy, for many reasons, and works incredibly well.
Jack Buchanan plays John, a scruffy but likeable, “guy next door”, who’s a little bit lost. He’s in love with his ex (?) boyfriend, M, (Simon Leary), but he wants the gentleness and tenacity of his girlfriend, W (Karin McCracken). He’s confused, somewhat, because he’s only ever been in love with men before, and he doesn’t think the label ‘bi’ fits, but he loves his girlfriend too.
All action comes to a head when M invites W over to dinner. Alongside M’s father, F – who desperately wants John to stay with M – the fighting reaches its climax – a literal cockfight on the stage for all to see – and John makes his choice.
A ‘normal’ relationship, or the one he’s always known?
A woman or a man?
Ideologically, from the point of view of a queer person, this play is fascinating. No-one is truly happy at the end of the piece, with all people wanting more. Things haven’t exactly changed, and the characters haven’t moved too far from where they started, but they’re affected all the same. Who do we side with? How does this play make us consider our own queerness? What are we actually looking for?
Simon Leary brings an uppity poise to the character of M, who’s a broker, emotionally insecure and rags on John constantly for every little thing. The character is incredibly unlikable and emotionally abusive – for the purposes of the story, of course – and he’s played with incredible alacrity. Despite the traits of the character, Leary delivers some of the funniest lines in the show.
Karin McCracken – W – is strong-willed and not afraid to call anyone on their bullshit. She is the wholesome foil to M, someone who cares about John and shows it openly, and her range is incredible.
Matt Chamberlain comes in in the latter part of the show as F, M’s father, who really wants M and John to stay together, despite being a little confused about how their relationship came about. For queer people with moderately accepting parents, he’s immediately recognizable – not quite “getting it”, not quite there, but at least trying to be supportive, even if he’s misguided in how he goes about it.
Cock is truly a play about love; and how relentless and fucked up and hard it can be. Shane Bosher’s direction is fantastic, with tension held on a knife’s edge for most of the piece. All the characters stare each other down like they’re on the verge of an old-west gunfight, vying for affection, love, acceptance.
Buchanan spends considerable moments in silence near the end of the play, weighing up an impossible choice. His performance is visceral, taught and tense, heartbreaking. It’s almost a little hard to watch, and I commend the sheer acting strength put into hitting that breaking point.
If you’re going to see any play at Circa this year, make it this one. I will definitely be going back for more.
Cock is on at Circa Theatre in Wellington until the 9th of November. Tickets here.