Posts Tagged ‘mike bartlett


COCK or How to Manipulate Media Coverage In Your Efforts to Secure Rave Reviews or I’m Just a Girl Standing in Front of a Box Office Trying to Buy a Ticket to Your Show



Bosco Productions

Metro Arts

August 21 – 31 2019


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward



Somebody didn’t want me to see this show. Let’s pretend that we don’t know who that was.

This happens sometimes, following an unfavourable review; xs is left off an upcoming list and Box Office is directed to refuse us entry. But companies should be careful of what I like to call The Maleficent Effect, which is to say that not everyone would stand for being treated with such disrespect and still show up to see the production for what it is. Luckily for this Irish lot, COCK is brilliant and quite beautiful, in the most honest and transparent way, with not a single European pillow in sight. Even so, let’s take a moment to appreciate that the risk of being turned away at the door after a 90-minute drive in peak hour traffic, after a session with teens who still haven’t learned their lines a week out from assessment, is nothing; it’s more amusing than anything else, and not nearly as insulting or threatening as a spate of online trolling, name calling and death threats. So…Bosco…namaste. 


while the producers of any show may argue that as it’s their party, they can invite whoever they want, the principle of extending invitations across the board to established newspapers and reviewing outlets is a sound one. Trying to exclude particular reviewers is not – if for no other reason that it makes that individual critic seem more important than they are and hints at, if not outright censorship, than at least an over-developed desire to manipulate coverage and ensure good reviews all round.

You can never second-guess what a critic’s response will be.

The real issue here is the insidious, creeping desire on the part of producers and their PR agencies to control all press coverage by feature writers and critics.


You can never second-guess what a critic’s response will be


I’d like to suggest a new category for the Matilda Awards

Most Awkward Box Office / Foyer Conversation


Box Office Girls: stare up at me in what appears to be abject horror, or it could just be me pre-empting a Hilary Spurling scenario (Box Office Girls too young to know who Hilary Spurling is).

Me: Hi, I’m Xanthe and I know you’ve probably been told not to give me comps. So I’ll buy a ticket.

Box Office Girls:

Me: This must be the first theatre ticket I’ve had to buy in ten years!

Box Office Girls:

Me: Happy to support!

Box Office Girls:


You can imagine.


Fiona Apple’s Shadow Boxer pre-show, as I take my seat, seems appropriate. I know the play; I love Mike Bartlett’s properly real life writing, with its overlaps, interjects, repetitions, stutters and silences. I love that, as Writer, he has the audacity to demand of the companies brave enough to take on his play, a bare stage sans sets and props.


Queensland’s most under-utilised director, Helen Howard, has relished the challenges of a possibly highly stylised and potentially dated piece…or is it? After all, we are still insisting that relationships be bound by certain constraints, aren’t we? Howard has shaped this show from a contemporary place of power and compassion for these characters with whom we connect, and from whom we disconnect at the same time. It’s a voyeuristic lens that holds us in the gaze of the actors as we watch events unfold. Direct address is skilfully incorporated. Judge me. Don’t judge me. There is rarely physical contact between the actors; like a dance in a dream, their actions – undressing, touching, etc – are described but never carried out in the sense of showing us explicit stage business. This leaves scope for the imagination, creating a delicate, sensual intimacy that will make this production an example at the next round table re the results of best practice, as we continue to evolve the ways we work with actors, particularly student actors, on intimate/physical/emotional scenes. It’s a way into intimacy that’s been explored more extensively to date in the dance realm. A surreal, smoothly choreographed opening sequence at once feels beautifully fluid, and irregular and angular, leaving us distanced from the action, and yet completely committed, uncertain of where we are and what we’re in for.


The people we meet here are real and flawed, and either panicked or paralysed by tiny daily insecurities, as well as their – our – bigger fear of actually living life.


Derek Draper (M) and Julian Curtis (John) drive this narrative; a love triangle that’s more complicated than most, introducing the unexpected, and turning the stereotypical homosexual relationship on its head. When push comes to shove, M invites in his father – F – for moral support (Patrick Farrelly). When John meets a woman – W (Ashlee Lollback) – he questions his place…his worth…in his 7-year de-facto relationship with M.


The dance continues at intervals throughout the show, neatly devised transitions separating and marking for posterity each key moment; the tenderness of the storytelling and the heightened awareness of the actors evident in every pause. There is so much said, and left unsaid, in these silences. 


Draper is strong in this role; he finds the right mix of strength and vulnerability; M stands up for what he wants and ultimately, despite even more deeply doubting his power, he doesn’t back down. It’s enough to make us shrink in our seats during one of the most uncomfortable endings ever written. But more so, it’s John’s ineptitude that continues to make us cringe, even after the lights come up. Everyone knows someone this frozen by fear. The beauty of Bartlett’s protagonist is in this paralysis; the agony of being incapable of making a decision, squirming in the process; pushed to the edge and unable to decide whether or not to jump.


W challenges John on every level and gently exerts her most elegant use of force to urge him closer and closer to a decision that will suit them both. As John admits, it’s not as much about gender or sex as it is about the way he feels with her, the careful, kind way she speaks to him, treats him. Lollback is a beautiful, natural performer, at ease in her body and generous in her offers, employing a warm, firm vocal tone, and a sweet and comforting smile that reminds me of Naomi Price in Sweet Charity.



While we might judge John’s behaviour harshly, most of us can probably relate to his inability to communicate under pressure. The paralysis of indecision is no small thing so the dinner party scene, so fraught, becomes intense and fascinating and funny, and absolutely awful in the best theatrical sense, leaving us despairing, properly lamenting, John’s stubborn resistance to the power that we all feel quite desperately by now, is his to claim. There are exasperated sighs in the audience. And inexplicably, it could be said,  largely because it’s Curtis in this role making M completely hopeless and also, completely adorable, John keeps our sympathy, despite his reluctance to commit one way or the other, to one lover or the other, and the question arises: why should he be made to choose? Bartlett doesn’t go deeper here; he doesn’t suggest that John remain single for example, but we can imagine what John’s single life might look like. Instead…well, it’s that awful, uncomfortable ending, confirming once again, in case we are ever in any doubt, that we’re all needing as much validation as the next guy. Well, no. Some much more so than others it seems. 






MTC & La Boite

Roundhouse Theatre

March 27 – April 12 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward



“What are you?”



A white cushioned floor and no way out. Bright fight lights and Dad as referee. Trapped. “This isn’t what I want. I think this is easier.”




It’s a shame Mike Bartlett felt that “Cock” was the best title for his superbly crafted play about a young man crippled by indecision, and the people he damages during a soul-searching journey that takes him right back to where he began. At first, the title intrigued me and I very easily accepted that it might imply at least two different meanings but having seen it I wonder if something softer, gentler, and a little more tender might not be more apt.




Cock is a beautiful, beautiful play. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll get away lightly after a night of comedy. It’s funny – really funny – and you’ll be leaning forward and laughing out loud like Sam did (well, perhaps not as loudly as Sam; remember, he’s been on location for a horror film so for him this was an evening of true comic relief), but it’s devastating too, and you might, before you know it, need to swipe a hot tear from your cheek. Bartlett’s writing is real, so real that…it’s almost not like a play at all. At times it’s more like bearing witness to that sort of awkward scene from real life, you know, that takes place in a coffee shop while you’re waiting on your carrot cake and latte, and trying not to stare as a couple discuss in whispers and shouts over the top of a tiny table about who’s to blame for the break up, and please refrain from discussing it in front of the children BUT LET’S TALK ABOUT IT NOW, HERE, IN THIS VERY BUSY PUBLIC PLACE AT LUNCHTIME. I KNOW. AWK-WARD.




Just like life, Cock doesn’t stop for long, not even in its silences. At the same time, the opportunities for contemplation are abundant, coming frequently in the middle of unfinished sentences and defiant statements that sting like a slap to the cheek.



I’ve remembered what I was going to say. You’re not as good looking as you think.




Yes. That’s… You’re lucky to have me. Okay?



The writing is actually brilliant; it’s sharp and smart, leaving nothing to chance and at the same time leaving a considerable amount unsaid. MTC have brought the best people right to the edge of something we see extremely rarely – actual reality in the acting. Although it’s strange to hear the British references to pounds and things in Australian accents, we let it go because for us, here, seeing what we see in this city, in this state, in this country, it’s more important to just take it all in – the language, the structure, the content, the questions… Marg Howell’s design, comprising of masses of cushions, supports the action physically and metaphorically, and allow it to settle. And unsettle. In the hands of a less intuitive director, this set would have presented many problems.


Cock is the most interesting, most intense production I’ve seen in a long time. Director, Leticia Caceres has made sure of it, bringing Eamon Flack into the cast for the Brisbane season. Flack joins Tom Conroy and Sophie Ross in a love triangle fuelled by confusion, indecision and perhaps just a little too much honesty. It feels like we know them and need to protect them…they’re our wonderful, strange, delightful, hopeless friends after all. Yeah, you know them. Tony Rickards brings both warmth and menace to the role of M’s father. You know him too.


Cock is the best live theatre you can expect to see at the moment. Yes, I know what else is on; I’m still struggling to arrange the words to describe how I feel about it. It’s this one that will haunt you. You’ll either be clenching your core and physically hurting by the end of it or trying not to feel at all.


Cock finishes this week. I doubt you’ll get in to see it at this late stage, and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to tell you to do so via this blog (if you follow me on Insta and Twitter you already knew how impressed I was by this production), but fight for a ticket if you have to. And if you have a ticket and can’t get to the show don’t be the reason somebody else misses out. A quick call to Box Office to let them know you’re gonna’ be a no show is the right thing to do. I’d go again if I could. But I can’t so I’m going to listen to this and this again instead. It makes my heart ache.





You would rather throw our whole lives away than make a decision.

I just want to be happy.

I can’t.

This isn’t what I want. I think this is easier.


Director’s Top Tips – a chat with the Director of COCK, Leticia Caceres


We caught up with Director of MTC’s Cock – Leticia Caceres



What can you tell us about MTC’s Cock?

Mike Bartlett wrote Cock while in Mexico where they still have ‘cock fights’. He became fascinated with how this blood sport could act as a metaphor for theatre: people gathering in an intimate space to watch creatures tear each other to pieces. Cock captures the spirit of THE cockfight, as three characters battle it out to stake their claim on each other’s hearts.

I’ve tried to honour this through the way we’ve staged this production. It’s very pared back, the actors work their guts out and go at each other with everything they’ve got and the language is used like weapons in this ferocious love triangle.


How did you cast Cock?

I started by casting the male characters first. I wanted to get this relationship right. Tom Conroy (playing John) had blown me away a couple of years back when he performed in Declan Green’s Moth; he was extraordinary. When he delivered his monologue in the audition, I recall being deeply moved by his take on the character of John. He brought something very authentic to the role, and a beautiful mix of sensuality and naiveté, the right touch of courage and fear. He had clearly approached the part with deep compassion. On top of that, he has a wonderful sense of humor and he is quite a looker, so he ticked all the boxes really! Everyone else was cast based on the kind of connection and chemistry they shared with Tom. They needed to not only act with truth, but make us believe that they could have a strong physical connection for each other.


Why led you to directing? Is there anything you wish you’d known or done to make the move from university into the industry easier?

I started directing because I was the actor that was always interrupting the director to ask questions: “why are we doing this? what are you trying to say? what does this mean?”. I drove everyone crazy, so in the end it was easier to direct my own work and answer my own questions.

I wish I’d started directing earlier at uni. I didn’t think about directing as a career option for myself until I was in third year. I wish QUT had of had a more dedicated directing course, I think this could have accelerated things. But I was encouraged by my directing teachers (Sean Mee and Mark Radvan, who were very supportive) and I found my way by making work, and this is really the most effective means of becoming a director.


How did you get your first job as a director?

Michael Gow gave me my first paid job as a director. He offered to be my Mentor soon after he took over QTC. I spent a year following Michael around and then he let me direct a couple of readings. He was very trusting.


Who are your greatest influences? Who do you still want to work with?

I spent six months in Argentina studying under one of the great directors of Latin America (Juan Carlos Gene who passed away two years ago). He was my master. He deeply influenced how I direct. He taught me how to talk to actors. I hear his voice all the time when I’m working. He is unquestionably my greatest influence.

I would love to work with Robyn Nevin.


How does directing for the stage differ to film/television directing?

The stage is much more about language and the body. This means we are asking of the audience to really listen and be much more active in using their imagination. This is why language is so important on the stage and why the body (gesture, shape, spatial relations) becomes so critical. The audience is reading interactions on stage and filling in the gaps, making up the story in their heads, imaging locations, time, mood etc . Theatre can’t afford to be prescriptive as film, its much more evocative and that’s what makes it such a unique art form.


How do you communicate your vision to designers and actors?

We have long conversations about the themes of the work and what we want to say through it. This becomes a very shared process where we all agree on what we all want to say, how we want the world to be reflected through this story on the stage. Sometimes, what translates is a very emotional landscape, that’s abstract and distilled (as is the case with Cock) sometimes, it’s about functionality (we might need a literal representation of a space).


What do you look for in a text to help fuel your vision? How much do current events and your own experiences influence a piece?

I ask three things of a text – Is it entertaining? Is it political? Does it have heart?


What have you learned from previous productions about working with actors?

Semantics is everything.



What do you expect from your actors?

A sense of humour, patience, generosity and a physical precision. I can’t stand it when actors are not in their bodies.



How much do you “direct” your actors and how much do you let them “play”?

It’s always a combination of both. I try to let them play as much as possible. It’s no use if an actor can’t find a moment organically; if you tell them what to do and how to do it, it always looks and feels contrived. What I do is give specific actions to play “attack, distract, seduce, antagonize, vilify”. If you are specific about the intention and the action, then all else is up for grabs.


Can you tell us about RealTV?

We are still very much in operation! We’ve been making work for over a decade together, and we have lots of exciting projects on the boil. We are currently under commission from Belvoir St, working on a play about drugs and globalization. Angela Betzien is really pushing her writing into really extraordinary territory. She’s one of the fiercest playwrights in the country.


Do you prefer to work on classic or contemporary texts?



What are your thoughts on new Australian plays and our upcoming writers and directors? What do our writers need to be writing? What roles/stories do you want to see and direct?

There is some phenomenal new writing at the moment. I’m excited by the way Australian writers are tackling big ideas and contemporary concerns. Savages by Patricia Cornelius which was recently staged in Melbourne and is sweeping all the major awards in Victoria at the moment is an extraordinary piece of writing inspired by the murder of Dianne Brimble on the P&O a couple of years back. She wrote the whole thing in imperfect prose, the actors (five males) morphed in and out of blokes and dogs, and the whole thing was both funny and intensely uncomfortable. It was a fascinating investigation of the male psyche and misogyny in contemporary Australia. I’m still affected by this production, almost a year on. This is exactly the kind of work I crave to see on the stage.


What’s your view of Australian theatre right now?

There is so much great work being made at the moment. I can list a bunch of companies from around the country and artists whose work I wouldn’t miss for the world. Great writing, bold visions, wonderful acting, stunning design.



What are top tips for aspiring theatre directors?


Make work you want to see and don’t worry about anything/anyone else. Build a strong creative team who all share a language. See as much theatre as you can. And direct like a motherfucker. What that means is up to you.




MTC’s Cock continues at La Boite’s Roundhouse Theatre until April 12 2014. If you can still get a ticket it will be here.



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