COCK

Director: Paul Griffiths

Cast: Francis Chouler, Matt Newman, Melissa Haiden, James Skilton

Venue: Alexander Bar’s Upstairs |UNTIL: Saturday

RATING: ****

Edgy dialogue, sly humour and original subject matter make this tersely-titled play by Mike Bartlett a theatrical gem – and it is well served by tight direction and intelligent portrayals from the cast.

Since the work deals with sexual orientation, Cock’s title conjures up images of male genitalia, but its other reference is in fact more pertinent given the character of John, the lead: a weather-cock pointing in which-ever direction the wind may blow.

Indecision and apathy are the salient features of his nature, and by the end of the play one finds him totally exasperating, as do the people with whom he interacts in the drama.

At the core of his indecisiveness is his ambiguous sex-uality. Manipulated into a gay relation-ship rather than opting for it, he has never questioned his orientation until, disenchanted with a dysfunctional partnership, he succumbs to the charms of… a woman. This is the start of an unusual love triangle with the habitually confused John in the middle.

Such a persona is not easy to portray convincingly, and all credit to Francis Chouler for the insight he brings to this role.

His facial repertoire and body language are faultless whatever the situation in which he features, from teasing, acerbic dialogue with his male partner to tentative exploration of unfamiliar territory as he courts a female.

Matt Newman and Melissa Haiden, as the competitors for John’s affections, complement Chouler’s performance impressively, with a noteworthy cameo from James Skilton as the concerned father of John’s male lover. The cast’s talents are seen to best advantage in the scene where they come together for a dinner party of unparalleled ghastliness, a comedy of bad manners gravid with conflict. It culminates in a bravura outburst from the normally reticent John, and with it comes the realisation that his apparent “decision” is nothing more than the road of least resistance.

One would expect a play on this topic to include scenes of nudity or at the very least a degree of clothes-shedding, but (possibly a little humour at the audience’s expense) not a single garment is removed and references to anatomy remain just that.

Refreshing and rewarding on all counts.