Review: Cock (Ambassadors Theatre)

If you asked people at the beginning of the year what they were most excited about in 2022, 'Cock' would surely burst out of their mouth. Get your minds out of the gutter - they're obviously talking about the hotly anticipated play... though if they say the same thing next year, you should be worried.



Written by Mike Bartlett, we first saw Cock in 2009 when it premiered at the Royal Court Theatre. Receiving several outings since, it is now back in its biggest form yet, taking over a West End theatre and boasting a star cast. The basic premise of the play sees one half of a gay couple fall for a woman - as the drama unfolds, John (the only named character in the play) struggles to make a decision over who he wants to be with.


John is played by Jonathan Bailey, returning to the stage for the first time in three years since his performance in Company wowed West End audiences. Since then, his appearance in Bridgerton has allowed the world to fall in love with him, and this part is only going to enlarge that. Out of the four actors in Cock, Jonathan is the only one who remains on the stage for the duration (1 hour 45 minutes in one single act). Through that time, he is utterly mesmerising to watch as we witness John unravelling to an extent that is sometimes humorous and is at others painful to watch. Through brilliant character acting, Jonathan leaves it all on that stage giving a performance that is full of charm and believability.



John's long suffering partner, known only as M, is played by Golden Globe Award winning actor Taron Egerton. In films such as Kingsman, Eddie The Eagle and Rocketman, Taron has proved time and time again that he is one of the most talented and exciting actors of his generation so to have the chance to watch him on stage in one of the West Ends most intimate theatres feels very special. Immediately, it becomes clear why Taron's career keeps going from strength to strength. He delivers a masterclass performance as we watch him spiral and break as M, ensuring your eyes never dart from him when he is on stage, whether he is speaking or not. One of the single greatest performances I've ever seen on a West End stage, Taron deserves all the plaudits going.


Jade Anouka plays the woman known only as W, who falls for John and makes him reevaluate everything he thinks he knows. Jade brings a different kind of energy to the stage, changing the dynamic drastically in her scene with Jonathan. With two heavyweight actors on the stage with her, she more than holds her own, at times even eclipsing them in a truly standout performance. The quartet are completed by Phil Daniels who joins the action relatively late in the game as a guest, known only as F, at what could be the most awkward dinner party ever.



For a show as intimate as Cock, you would expect impeccable chemistry between the cast and that's exactly what you get. Jonathan and Taron are perfectly imperfect as the long term lovers deciding whether to call it quits or stay together. Whether it's their acid barbs to each other (including a particular snipe that made me wince) or their more tender moments, they are one of the most incredible on-stage couples I've seen to date. The chemistry Jade has with Jonathan allows you to buy into the belief they are also in love, while Phil and Taron have a beautiful father and son dynamic which provides some humanity in a play that runs the danger of becoming farcical.


What lifts Cock to huge new levels is the incredible dialogue. Witty, at times harsh and gritty, it feels effortlessly real. With many laugh out loud moments, the tone can change in an instant but the quality of the writing remains incredible throughout. Discussing various identities, Cock tries hard to hit home all the endless possibilities there are and why we shouldn't be limited by labels - while it may take some of the characters a while to realise this, it is all played out with sensitivity and understanding. There is also a brilliant and progressive touch in the programme listing a guide to different LGBTQ+ terms and what they all mean.



The premise of Cock is split into three sections: the first sees John and M in their relationship in relatively unconventional scenes that makes Cock stand on its own in comparison to similar plays that have been done before. The next section features John and W played out in the same timeframe we have watched in the previous part, giving us a new perspective and more understanding for the characters. The concluding section sees the three come together, joined by M's father. This final section is where the shows title comes from, with the lovers warring over John in scenes reminiscent of a cock fight.


Directed by Tony and Olivier award winner Marianne Elliott, her flawless track record continues here with the action moving seamlessly through three sections, each made up of several scenes - these are usually transitioned through beautiful movement from the actors directed by Annie-Lunette Deakin-Foster. There are no props adoring the sparse stage with all the action being mimed - from drinks being poured to clothes coming off, all we can see is the stunning stage design from Merle Hensel - full of mirrors and lights designed by Paule Constable which builds the tension and atmosphere throughout.



You may have gathered from this review but I was truly blown away by Cock - watching a group of actors at the top of their game deliver some of the best performances I've seen on a West End stage complete with great staging and incredibly sharp writing makes this one of the greatest plays I have ever seen. I truly believe this is the best play in the West End at the moment. I defy you to ever see a greater Cock.


★★★★★


Cock plays at the Ambassadors Theatre until June 4th. Tickets from https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/cock/ambassadors-theatre/


Photos by Brinkhoff Moegenburg