COCK - Ambassadors Theatre (2)

Cock review: Reviews round-up of Cock at the Ambassadors Theatre starring Jonathan Bailey and Taron Egerton ★★★★

The revival of Mike Bartlett’s drama COCK at the Ambassadors Theatre has opened to London theatre critics.

Directed by Tony and Olivier award winning Marianne Elliott (Company, War Horse), and written by Mike Bartlett, the play stars Taron Egerton, Jonathan Bailey, Jade Anouka and Phil Daniels.

Mike Bartlett’s razor sharp play is running at the Ambassadors Theatre until Saturday 4 June 2022, and is about a male couple in a gay relationship where one of them falls in love with a woman.

Alongside Marianne Elliott on the creative team are Designer Merle Hensel, Lighting Designer Paule Constable, Sound Designer Ian Dickinson, Composer Femi Temowo, Movement Director Annie-Lunette Deakin-Foster, Casting Director Charlotte Sutton, Vocal Coach Hazel Holder and Associate Director Chloe Christian.

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Check out reviews from all major press including Evening Standard, Guardian, Telegraph, Times, Variety, Independent and Time Out.

Average Critics Rating
★★★★

Cock reviews

The Guardian
★★★

"Jonathan Bailey and Taron Egerton locked in a love triangle"

"Jade Anouka’s character causes an existential earthquake in Marianne Elliott’s stylised revival of Mike Bartlett’s comedy about sexual identity"

"It all combines into a slightly mystifying non-naturalism that is at once flamboyant and no-frills. And where the theatrical tics in Elliott and Miranda Cromwell’s staging of Death of a Salesman gave the play an astonishing invention and power, the stylised elements here do not service this play’s meanings but seem like playful add-ons."

"One of the most powerful scenes comes at the end, in John’s childishly sulky intransigence, and here Cock’s drama ultimately reveals itself not as a contest between heteronormativity and gay partnerships, or a play about the right to resist one fixed identity, but a far more old-fashioned love triangle with a selfish, destructive and cruel figure at its centre."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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TimeOut
★★★★

"Thirteen years on, Mike Bartlett’s ‘Cock’ stands up"

"Welcome to the dawn of the Mike Bartlett supremacy. Always prolific, soon the playwright will have three shows on in London at the same time: next month, his faux-Renaissance comedy about twenty-first-century London ‘Scandaltown’ will open within days of ‘The 47th’, his faux-Shakespearean verse play about the 2024 US presidential election."

"Funny and playful but with a stark psychological intensity"

"Discourse around sexuality has changed a lot in the last decade and a bit. But I think the strength of ‘Cock’ is that it’s less bothered about deconstructing sexuality than deconstructing society: John’s problem isn’t that nobody can accept that he’s bisexual, but that he’s pressured to make up his mind to be with M or W in order to slot into a neat box that will keep everyone else happy (or at least give them closure). F is in some ways a peripheral figure, but his determination to have resolution for his son feels representative of the way John’s vacillating desires run up against the need for societal approval. Perhaps it has less of the brutal clarity of 2013’s companion piece ‘Bull’ (about workplace bullying), but while society favours monogamy and clarity over messy fluidity, ‘Cock’ stands up."

Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut
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The Telegraph
★★★

"Mike Bartlett’s sexuality-crisis drama still just about measures up"

"'Rocketman' star Taron Egerton is under-used in the Ambassadors' revival of a smart 2009 work that has broadly kept pace with the times"

"Presented against a curved back wall of burnished metal with fluorescent-effect rods dangling from on high, the production projects modish style without attaining the searing intensity of the original cockpit staging. And while the script has broadly kept pace with the times, liberalism’s leaps and bounds have lent a sepia tinge to its focus on bisexuality, even if it still strikes a valid blow for unconstrained self-definition. (NB: everyone remains clothed and sex is teasingly implied.)"

"All in all, it still measures up, but the super-talented Bartlett – the original magic Mike perhaps – went on to bigger and better things and is girding his loins for two premieres in the coming weeks."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
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i News
★★★★

"Jonathan Bailey and Taron Egerton draw blood in a shrewd, savage revival"

"Jade Anouka combines assertiveness with longing in Marianne Elliott’s elegant revamp of Mike Bartlett’s sexual identity drama"

"Marianne Elliott’s shrewd production shifts its focus away from a gay/straight binary, with bisexuality the only rather hazily imagined alternative, and towards a broader consideration of how we define and evaluate ourselves in relation to whom we choose to love."

"The play brutally exposes the lies and compromises we’re prepared to swallow to get what we think we need. Elegantly presented and very funny, it no longer quite lands a knock-out blow – but it still draws blood."

Sam Marlowe, i News
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The Stage
★★★

"Frank and funny"

"Taron Egerton and Jonathan Bailey star in a stylish, savage but surface-skimming production of Mike Bartlett’s play about sexual identity"

"For a relatively short play – it runs to one hour and 45 minutes without an interval – it manages to say a lot about the way people in relationships exert a hold over one another, about desire and control and the power plays we conduct with those we love or, at least, claim to love, in a way that’s frank and funny and, at times, wince-inducingly cruel."

"But while it works on its own terms, it’s a difficult play to watch without an awareness of what it omits. While bisexuality is mentioned, it’s done so in a throwaway fashion with a faint expression of distaste. John describes his identity as a “stew”. And yet the play suggests there are only two possible outcomes to his dilemma, which makes it feel more dated than it is. The narrative is driven by John’s fluidity and yet recoils from it (something that also anchors it in time). Despite the best efforts of the cast, the characters always feel primarily like sexual chess pieces engaged in a game in which there can be only one victor."

Natasha Tripney, The Stage
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The Evening Standard
★★★★

"Taron Egerton and Jonathan Bailey star in stylish revival about sex and self-identity"

"Mike Bartlett’s Cock gets the, um, sensitive but assertive handling it needs from Marianne Elliott’s all-star production"

"Marianne Elliott’s meticulous, eloquently stylised revival features a cast whose star appeal is matched by their impressive stage credentials. Bridgerton’s Jonathan Bailey is John – indecisive, vain and, yes, a bit of a dick. Taron ‘Rocketman/Kingsman’ Egerton is his wounded boyfriend M. The great Jade Anouka is the woman, W. It’s an emotionally charged piece despite the lack of character names, the skimpy backstories, and a physical language that owes more to contemporary dance than naturalistic theatre."

"Bailey brings physical precision, depth and occasional roaring fury to the blank canvas of John. Egerton, who fainted in the show’s first preview and was replaced by an understudy, has a coruscating, waspish anger as M, which eventually mutates into a depiction of real hurt. Daniels is dependably great. But for me, the acting honours are stolen by Anouka, whose constant, subtle emotional retrenchments reflect the fact that W is the only woman on stage, judged by three men."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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The Arts Desk

"Brutal, bruising and brilliant: High energy revival of Mike Bartlett’s 2009 play boasts a dynamic cast"

"The main trouble is that Bartlett sets up the figure of John the indecisive, a man who promises to love both M and W, while failing them both, and them repeats this pattern for the whole duration of the play. While I was blown away by the situation when I first saw it, this time I’m less convinced by the writing. Not only is it repetitive, but also there is too little exploration of either each character or of the theme of identity. Bartlett is stuck with stating and restating John’s binary choices, with additions of anguish, but no dramatic development. Women get a bad deal here, but likewise the playwright doesn’t say much of interest about either being gay, or about being straight."

"So although the discussions about our sexuality — is it, as F crudely argues, a genetic condition that cannot change? — are rather banal and perfunctory, it’s the acting that should draw you to this show. With a set whose stainless steel backdrop occasionally produces mirror images of the action, the stage comes alive with the clashes between the characters in an ugly battle of wills. You can easily forgive the lack of thematic development when Bailey, Egerton and Anouka ignite the emotional fuel of the story — they really rock."

Aleks Sierz, The Arts Desk
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The Times
★★

"Sexual identity study is about as plausible as Bridgerton"

"...the central conceit is about as plausible as the average episode of Bridgerton."

"Bartlett’s would-be risqué dialogue often sounds like a clumsy translation from a bad French comedy. In Marianne Elliott’s production, perched on Merle Hensel’s minimalist set, everything is overbright and overemphatic."

Clive Davis, The Times
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Variety

"Taron Egerton, Jonathan Bailey Lead a Blistering West End Production"

"Without dropping a moment of the play’s seriousness, laughter is the key element that differentiates and distinguishes Elliott’s revival from the original production, which, under the direction of James Macdonald, moved from the tiny Royal Court Upstairs to Off Broadway’s Duke Theater in 2012."

"This engrossing, visceral ride through desire and self-deceit has a limited run and tickets are vanishing. If the in-demand actors are available, future life here and on Broadway seem certain."

David Benedict, Variety
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The Independent
★★★★

"Jonathan Bailey captivates as Taron Egerton’s sexually conflicted lover"

"Revival of Mike Bartlett’s 2009 play fizzes with energy"

"Our language around LGBTQ+ issues has become infinitely more complex and nuanced over the last decade, yet Bartlett’s script rarely feels dated – especially when discussing sexuality. You feel the 2009 timestamp more in the misogynistic references M makes to W’s body. While M’s clearly hurting and the lines are delivered for laughs, phrases like “rug muncher” feel jarring."

Isobel Lewis, The Independent
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Daily Express
★★

"Bridgerton's Jonathan Bailey and Taron Egerton star in limp sexual melodrama"

"Bridgerton hunk Jonathan Bailey and Taron Egerton bring their megawatt star power and talents to the London stage but can't breathe life into this melodrama about sexual identity."

"The humour and bitchy exchanges mostly fall flat, perhaps exacerbated by the oddly stilted mannerisms and delivery. Marianna Elliott's production insists on such bizarrely cartoony gestures and inflections that all three superb and wildly charismatic actors rarely feel real. Little natural rhythm to speech or emotion ever emerges."

Stefan Kyriazis, Daily Express
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Attitude
★★★★

"Jonathan Bailey and Taron Egerton's Cocksure Sex Comedy is a Hit"

"The Bridgerton and Rocketman actors play bickering boyfriends redefining their relationship in this riotous comedy"

"There’s not much to say beyond the near-perfect performances, with staging minimal save for a curved, mirrored backdrop that accentuates John’s confinement and warps the characters’ reflections as if revealing who they really are. One complaint, though: I arrived at the theatre early and was tortured by needlessly loud music played on a loop. The things I’ll do for Cock!"

Jamie Tabberer, Attitude
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📷 Main photo: COCK - Ambassadors Theatre (2)

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