Why he called his play Cock - Chichester Festival Theatre

Matthew Needham and Luke Thallon in COCK. Photo by The Other Richard
Matthew Needham and Luke Thallon in COCK. Photo by The Other Richard

Cock has got to be one of the more striking and provocative titles in Chichester Festival Theatre’s history.

The New York Times famously refused to use the name, preferring to call Mike Bartlett’s piece The Cock-Fighting Play.

FOR SUSSEX NEWSPAPERS REVIEW, SEE: https://www.chichester.co.uk/whats-on/theatre-and-comedy/a-play-called-cock-at-chichester-s-minerva-theatre-review-1-8659399

“But I honestly wasn’t aiming for a reaction as such,” insists Mike as the play is revived in Chichester’s Minerva Theatre from September 28-October 27.

“But I found it fascinating the reaction to it. We can all switch on a piece of drama on the TV after 9pm and hear adults swearing and most of us have sex. I find the reaction very strange to a word like that which is slightly rude but isn’t even the rudest word…

“The play comes from when I was in Mexico. I was there for a month on a playwright’s exchange, and I was living in the gay district in Mexico City. I was thinking about sexuality, and I was also interested that they still had cock fights and bull fights there. I went to see a bull fight. I didn’t get to a cock fight but they brought the cock around the village. And I wrote two plays while I was there.”

One was this play which he called Cock. A friend pointed out to him that if it was a success, he would have to live with the name for the rest of his life.

“But it really wasn’t me trying to see how much attention I could get. If anything the name has been a problem for the play.”

Couldn’t he have changed it then? No, Mike says. Form and content and name were all so interconnected.

“But there is no way I would give something a name that would stop people coming or just be childish or wilfully provocative. I am not that kind of writer.

“The story is about a guy in a gay relationship who falls in love with a woman. The problem is that he is 100 per cent in love with the woman and 100 per cent in love with the man. He doesn’t know what to do, and that leads to him trying to make everything alright which just makes matters worse and worse. It was a play about sexuality, but watching it again I would say that it is a play about love. What is particularly interesting is that nearly ten years later the issue of sexual identity has developed hugely in terms of the many different labels for your sexual preferences. It was something I saw around me, the inadequacies of just having gay and lesbian and bisexual to describe people’s experiences.

“It is exactly the same love (that the man has for the man and also for the woman). The only difference is that he has been in the relationship with the man for a few years and he has only just met the woman, so there is the novelty of the woman and the loyalty to the man, but it is still the same love.”

Mike has enjoyed huge TV success alongside his stage highlights.

“Dr Foster was amazing and weird and wonderful. We are living in a really brilliant time where quite a few playwrights have moved into TV as well as writing plays. What is great about this country is that they don’t have to choose. In America, you choose east coast and be a playwright or west coast and write for TV. In this country you can be in London and do both.

“But the more I do it, the more I realise how different the technical side is, as different as writing a play and a novel. But what still drives it is that you are a writer with a story that you want to tell. It is just that you don’t do it in the same way, but the drive is the same.”

Contains very strong language and scenes of a sexual nature.

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