‘Cock’ by Mike Bartlett is a quick, snappy, ‘four-hander’ brought to you by East West Theatre as part of the ShanghaiPRIDE theatre programme. Set in Shanghai, we follow American expat John as he tries to decide between his posh broker boyfriend, M, and a female British teaching assistant, W. During the play John goes back and forth between M and W, his indecision fueled by the knowledge that depending on which one of them he chooses, he will evolve into a completely different person. Eventually, it all culminates in an evening at M’s flat when all three meet up for dinner and M’s father shows up as a special surprise guest.
“I think we are fundamentally different individuals you know that?”
What would you do after saying this to your long-term boyfriend?
John says it repeatedly, and then leaves M.
But that is not the end of the play; it is only the beginning.
Cock is a play for anyone who has ever tried to start a relationship or to end one. It touches upon various themes such as sexuality, a parent’s love and acceptance of his son, misogyny, socio-economic differences, selfishness and the big questions of what being in a relationship means and does to us. All four characters are far too human to be likeable, shouldering their own insecurities, prejudices, and grievances, whilst fighting for what they (think they) want.
For many LGBTQ people sexual orientation is an important part of identity, since they are often expected to proclaim to the world who they are when they ‘come out’. Cock portrays how society expects LGBTQ people to identify with specific labels, and its tendency to stereotype them accordingly.
We have asked the director of ‘Cock’, Barbara K. Anderlic how she sees the play and what her criteria were in choosing the cast for the show.
Is this the first time you direct one of Mike Bartlett’s plays?
Yes, this is the first time I have directed one of his plays. It’s also the first time I have directed Cock. But when I heard about the play I thought it would be a great fit to do in Shanghai, especially for ShanghaiPRIDE, so I approached East West Theatre about it.
Who are the other members of the crew?
The producer is Fiona Pollard, who is the executive producer of East West Theatre. Then we have Cherrie Wang, our stage manager, Austin Dou, who is translating the play into Chinese, Eric Heise, the main tech supervisor, and a string of other important members, such as Fern Lim (design) as well as Cecilia Garcia and Owen Keats Bell.
How did you choose the cast?
Casting the play proved to be an interesting experience. We had many great actors audition for Cock but because of the nature of the play each actor’s individual talent was only half of the equation. The play is all about the chemistry between the four characters; so, finding four actors that would complement each other and play well off each others’ energy was vital. Of course good chemistry is always necessary for a play but I believe it is even more so with a play such as Cock where the main topics are human relationships and love.
One of the main purposes of the play is to raise questions. What would be a second, subliminal meaning of it?
I suppose the simple message is that everyone is responsible for their own life, actions, and the decisions they make. And that one must be conscious of the fact that one’s decisions or indecisiveness have consequences for the other people in one’s life. That carelessness can lead to trouble and that one’s own weakness can hurt others.
Is the main character still questioning his sexuality or is he trying to choose between the two relationships?
I believe it is a bit of both. Of course, the fact that John gets involved with W makes him question his sexuality but at the same time he is also distancing himself from this idea that he has to choose or declare what he is. As he says at one point during the play, he thinks it is more important who he loves than what he loves – what here refers to the gender of his lover.
How do you see the play?
I think one can view the play from many different perspectives and find various layers to its structure. The audience can view it as a simple story about one person’s difficult love life or as a comment on today’s society and sexual politics in current Britain and the evolution of gay life and culture in modern Europe.* It’s really up to the audience to figure out what they wish to take away from the show. But hopefully it will raise questions and lead to interesting discussions.
*For this production we have set the play among expats in Shanghai, although the city is never specifically mentioned.
Barbara K. Anderlic
Barbara K. Anderlič has worked on numerous theatre productions on and off stage, including Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen, The Vagina Monologues, and The Snow Queen. This June her monologue Bitte nicht berühren will be performed at the fringe festival of the Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen and her installation And Now My Grandfather is Paul Newman will be part of a group exhibition at Ashkal Alwan in Beirut, Lebanon. After Cock she can be found at the Theaterbiennale in Wiesbaden, Germany. Barbara also served as a jury member for the Viennale ’12 film festival in Austria, helped out at Chobi Mela VII International Photography Festival in Bangladesh, and conducted a theatre workshop at Thespo 15 in India.
Cock is part of the Identity Series for ShanghaiPRIDE.
June 6 – 7 // Starts at 8.00 p.m. // The Pearl, 471 Zhapu Lu near Wujin Lu (closest metro Sichuan Bei Lu on Line 10)
Tickets: 100 RMB in advance / 120 RMB at the door. Bookings and enquiries: [email protected], 15821435650 or www.eastwesttheatre.com
By Andreea Dragut
[Images by Barbara K. Anderlic, via East West Theatre]