Sexual identity and bullying. You would be hard pressed to find more intense hot-button topics in the media today, and Theatre by the River is tackling both … at once.
Cock and Bull, a pair of plays by British playwright, Mike Bartlett, confront one of those each. But wait, two plays at once you ask? Let me clarify.
Each play consists of four characters whose ages and genders each correspond with a character in the other play. Four actors come together to play one role in each piece, one crew for both and you have the makings of a repertory theatre.
The shows alternate nights, and once in a while, in a test of endurance and versatility for the actors, both are done in one day. Repertory! Now that we’re clear on that, on to the plays!
Cock, dubbed “the cockfight play”, goes after sexuality. In a time when same sex marriage is gaining ground every day in the developing world, when gender identity is becoming more and more complex, Cock asks a question to which the answer was thought obvious for centuries: Does gender really matter?
For as long as we as a species can remember, the answer has been an emphatic ‘yes’. That ‘yes’ isn’t quite so emphatic anymore and is becoming less so all the time (despite those who hold on to it for the sake of tradition).
Cock is a piece that helps push that yes further down the spectrum to the ‘no’ it hopefully will become. Here’s a brief synopsis of the play:
John has been in a long-term relationship with his same-sex partner, M. When they break up, John finds himself falling in love with W, a woman he sees on his daily commute.
The fact that a play about a same-sex couple is being produced worldwide, with recent stagings in the US, Brazil and India, is progress. However, the fact that same-sex marriage remains controversial shows the debate goes on.
I hope for a day when we all agree with John when he says “…it’s about who the person is. Not man or woman but, What they’re like. What they do.”
On to Bull, being produced by Theatre by the River for the first time in this country.
Bull takes a look at bullying. It happens in an office, and so it is overtly about workplace bullying, but its themes can be applied to any number of scenarios.
The debate rages today as to what the definition of bullying is, and what should be done about it. Bull covers a wide range of aspects of the debate.
It goes from what would be considered by most to be gentle teasing all the way through to what any reasonable human being would consider crossing the line. It invites the audience to think about where that line is, and how authority figures can affect the situation with how they handle it.
Bull, for the most part, is a hilarious satire. This does an interesting thing to the audience as spectators of bullying. For many people, that’s the most common way we experience it, and the journey the play takes will likely make people re-think their reactions when they see it happening to others.
With sharp dialogue, clever one-liners, an excellent cast and ‘outside the box’ staging, Cock and Bull bring to life themes that are incredibly modern and cutting edge, showing that theatre can have its finger on the pulse of society.
For more information, visit Theatre by the River’s website at www.theatrebytheriver.com.
All photos by Giovanni Navarro