Cock at Ambassadors Theatre

One of the biggest life’s joys is derived from seeing a play on stage, rather than online. Pandemic has made this glaringly obvious – I hope it’s not just me who feels that way about ‘live’ theatre – because being in the actual audience and seeing actors perform cannot be replaced even with the best set-up of the streaming services. Energetically at least. When I heard about Mike Bartlett‘s drama “Cock” at Ambassadors Theatre I was curious, but didn’t book the ticket straight away – and it led to a few surprises on the day I actually saw the play.

Cock at Ambassadors Theatre

Original cast of the play included Taron Egerton, who played Elton John in the biopic “Rocketman” as M. and Jonathan Bailey, fresh from the hysterical success of season 2 of Bridgerton, who was cast as indecisive boyfriend John. Marianne Elliott beautifully & masterfully adapted the drama for the stage, but by the time I booked my tickets to see the play during Easter weekend, Taron Egerton was replaced by Joel Harper-Jackson (his funny one-liners are a performance in itself!) and when the play started, I realised with a slight pang that it was Jonathan Bailey’s understudy who has stepped into the limelight.

Ambassadors Theatre is one of the smallest theatres in London and that makes the performances you see on stage even more intimate, even if you can hear the occasional car klaxon or bike roaring by. The audience was a charming mix of ages, with couples holding hands and single women eager to see Viscount Bridgerton on stage.

the cast of four, I saw the play with two understudies

The play starts off slow, spotlighting the relationship between a gay male couple and gains traction like a spark that sets the flame aglow. By the time the understudy of Jade Anouka comes on stage (unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to buy the programme, so I don’t know her name – but she was so energetically magnificent, keeping a tight grip on degrees of tension, I felt truly lucky to have seen her on stage that night), the play envelopes you tightly in its embrace. I couldn’t help but try to anticipate how the events will develop when one of the men has fallen in love with a woman, yet seems unable to leave his partner & their relationship behind. When two men and a woman meet for dinner, in part to size the competition up, in part to fight over the man they both love, the play truly comes alive and then… the fourth character enters the stage, Phil Daniels as M’s father. The sparks join together and become an all encompassing, explosive flame that will turn someone into the ashes. What makes the play also particularly memorable is the pendulum between tragic and funny, the lines that actors speak bubbling with the potential to become memes, familiar to many.

the stage minutes before the play started

The cast, even with two understudies, appeared both comfortable with each other and very individual as characters – but the chemistry between each character and group cast is unmistakable & superb. Love between two people is complicated enough, when you enter insecurities & issues of relationship between genders into the mix what happens before your eyes becomes somewhat even more personal, especially for those who might have questioned or continue questioning their own sexuality. What attracts us to each other? What’s the secret to a lasting relationship?Three men, one woman – the play doesn’t have an intermission and runs for just under two hours.

There is no nudity, so don’t expect to see the title of the play staring you in the face on stage. What you will experience though is the range of emotions, bodies close, yet a distance, with light bars & rotating parts of the stage adding to the choreography of the human bodies. As the performance came to an end and the audience sank into complete darkness, I felt a little disappointed not to have seen the originally announced cast in action, but charmed & delighted to have seen two young understudies, who not only stepped into the limelight with confidence, but left their own, undeniably talented mark on the play, making the characters fully their own. A play I would highly recommend seeing!

Cock, Ambassadors Theatre, West Street, London till June 4, 2022

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