Cock and Bull

Cock and Bull comes to Manchester courtesy of Word of Warning and the Royal Exchange.  Conceived for the eve of the 2015 UK General Election, three females convene to perform their own, alternative, party conference.  They walk on stage in formal suits, mouths and hands glistening with gold paint.  Very quickly it is clear that the piece is based around movement and repeated short phrases.  ‘Power, patriarchy, suits, repetition, male ways of being, suits’.  Over the performance the trajectory is male to female; the gold paint wears off.

‘Words do the work’ say the company in the after show discussion.  It is the words and movement that drive the performance through fatigue and the way it affects vocal delivery.  The text is sparse, single phrases cut and repeated.  Repetition of key themes such as ‘hard working people’ start to lose their meaning, perhaps even more for the speaker/performer than for the audience.  The audience fill in the gaps.  Of course that means the play exists to some extent in one’s own interpretation.

Music is important to this piece.  David Cameron’s phrases are inserted into Frank Zappa (Bobby Brown Goes Down) to introduce satire, which has ‘always been used to undermine authority’.  A Purcell falling bass line (Dido and Aeneas) ‘creates a sense of despair and doom’.

Nic Green talks about listening to the entire Tory Party Conference from 2014; the opening sequences are based on David Cameron, and the idea of spin, privilege and pretence.  But the later scenes showing transition from male to female?  The cast say it’s the three female politicians (Plaid Cymru, SNP, Green) embracing after the April 2015 debate.  I saw it as women standing firm against austerity, where the statistics show that women shoulder 85% of the burden of austerity.  I love that the play leaves enough space for individual interpretation; it’s a brilliant piece of political theatre.

Cock and Bull, Royal Exchange Manchester 16-18 March 2017.

This review draws on comments made by the company in the after show discussion on 16 March.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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